There’s no shortage of bad news in education these days, nor any dearth of stasis, but at least education reform is a lively, forward-looking enterprise that gets positive juices flowing in many people and that is leading to promising changes across many parts of the K–12 system. We are focused on making things better—via stronger standards (Common Core), greater parental choice (vouchers, charters, and more), more effective teachers (upgrading preparation programs, devising new evaluation regimens) and lots else.
When it comes to pension reform in the education realm, however, it’s hard to stay positive. Here, we’re saddled with a bona fide fiscal calamity (up to a trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities by some counts) and no consensus about how to rectify the situation. No matter how one slices and dices this problem, somebody ends up paying in ways they won’t like and perhaps shouldn’t have to bear. All we can say is that some options are less bad than others.
Today’s new Fordham study examines how three cities (and their states) are apportioning the misery—or failing to do so. This analysis pulls no cheery rabbits out of a dark hat, but it definitely illustrates the nature and scale of the pension-funding problem and describes a couple of painful yet, in their ways, promising solutions (or partial solutions)
The Colorado Supreme Court made a wise decision in the long-running Lobato school-finance case.
Photo by SalFalko
A wave of good sense swept through the Colorado Supreme Court earlier this week, which finally made a decision in the long-running Lobato school-finance case. Back in 2009, the court split 4–3 ruling that school funding was a justiciable issue, which paved the way for a bizarre 2011 trial-court decision holding that the state was underfunding education by billions of dollars each year—an opinion that ignored those inconvenient parts of the Colorado Constitution that limit the ability of the legislature to raise taxes. Complying with the trial-court ruling would have required the legislature to violate the constitution. But what are constitutional limits when we have strained claims of underfunding based on dubious costing-out studies?
In Tuesday’s 4–2 decision, the court wisely declined the plaintiffs’ invitation to launch a constitutional crisis. Holding that the state’s school-finance system was rationally related to the constitution’s requirement to provide “a thorough and uniform” system of public schools, the majority rejected the trial court’s decision in its entirety.
Even though the plaintiffs lost, it's unclear what the litigation’s long-term political effects will be. Three weeks ago, Colorado’s legislature passed a school-finance
Everyone from President Barack Obama to U.S. Representative Paul Ryan to Bill Gates seems to have a plan for improving the Federal Pell Grant Program for higher education.
Worthy though some of these efforts may be, none get to the crux of the problem: A huge proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment is flowing to people who simply aren’t prepared to do college-level work. And this is perverting higher education’s mission, suppressing completion rates, and warping the country’s K–12 system.
About two-thirds of low-income community-college students—and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges—need remedial (a.k.a. “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of low-income students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of such students earn a four-year degree within six years.
What if the government decreed that, starting three years hence, students would only be eligible for Pell aid if enrolled in credit-bearing college courses, thus disqualifying remedial education for support?
One could foresee various possible outcomes. Let’s start with the positive. Ambitious,
We've argued that states should target scare resources at the neediest kids—but clearly the states haven't listened.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
The National Institute for Early Education Research, which is as much an advocacy group as it is a think tank, is out with its annual yearbook on state-funded preschool programs. And its (desired) headline is that “per pupil funding” is down dramatically.
- Total spending by states [from 2002-2012] has risen from $3.47 billion to $5.12 billion. Adjusting for inflation, this is a real increase of $1.65 billion in current dollars or 48 percent. In allocating these increases states have tended to favor expansion of enrollment over adequate funding for quality.
- By 2011-2012, per-child spending had fallen below $4,000, the lowest in a decade. This reflects a drop of more than $1,000, adjusting for inflation, since 2001-2002 year, and is a 23 percent decline.
In his 2009 book Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argued that states should target scarce resources at the neediest kids, rather than spreading the money around. Clearly the states haven’t listened. They’ve boosted funding—but
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
June 13, 2013
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