Tom Vander Ark on "School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era"
In this post, which originally appeared on the Getting Smart blog, guest blogger Tom Vander Ark analyzes Paul T. Hill’s paper, “School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era,” the latest installment in Fordham’s Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series. Click here for his analysis of “Teachers in the Age of Digital Instruction.”
The second paper released yesterday deals with the digital learning implications for school finance. Author Paul Hill leads the Center for Reinventing Public Education. His work over the last two decades has done more to shape my views about how to design delivery of public education than any other scholar. Like the Hassels’ paper, the recommendations presented in School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era are well aligned with the recommendations of Digital Learning Now.
Dr. Hill lays out in some detail all the ways that the current haphazard system is “stacked against innovation.” Rather than tinkering, Paul suggests that states should “start from scratch and create a new school-funding system.” He suggests a central design principal, “Make funding for education follow the child to any school or instructional program in which he or she enroll.”
He recommends that a technology-friendly funding system would need to:
- Fund education, not institutions
- Move money as students move
- Pay for unconventional forms of instruction, and
- Withhold funding for ineffective programs without chilling innovation.
Digital Learning Now recommends that funding should be weighted, portable, and performance based. Paul hits all of these but treads lightly on weighted student funding suggesting it as an option. Weighted funding implies that students that bring more risk factors to school should receive more funding—the reverse of the average situation in America today where affluent kids typically get more funding than kids from low income families. A reliance on local property tax makes a Robin Hood funding formula extraordinarily controversial.
Paul advances the idea of portability in two important ways in this paper. The first is ‘backpack’ funding which not only follows the student but also could provide a family wallet that would recognize differential pricing and enable procurement of a wide range of academic and extracurricular options. Paul discusses six risk-limiting proposals for folks that get nervous about parents as decision makers.
The second breakthrough proposal in this paper suggests scraping the complicated system of local levies and partial state matches for school construction. Instead, “Funds previously earmarked for facilities and maintenance could be included in the backpack.” I’d love to see school districts get out of the real estate development business. If a little tech and facilities funding showed up with enrollment revenue for courses, providers could lease appropriate facilities. This would lead to more school options, more facilities flexibility, and far more productive use of public space. This transition could be accompanied by the sale and lease of many school facilities that could raise billions in funding for operations and program development.
Paul concludes that “A funding system can’t cause innovation: It can only interfere with it, or let it happen.” I’m not sure that’s true. If states actually did what Paul suggests here, I think it would cause a digital learning revolution.
Tom Vander Ark is the founder of GettingSmart.com, CEO of Open Education Solutions, and a partner in Learn Capital a early-stage learning venture fund. Tom is a former public school superintendent, grant-maker, and business executive. He chairs iNACOL and is a director of several nonprofits including LA’s Promise and Strive for College.
Category: Digital Learning
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