Next month, voters will not be choosing between supporting and destroying schools at the ballot box, yet crafty politicians and interest groups are having a field day attempting to convince voters of this alternate reality. In Maryland, the main proponents of a gambling initiative are running misleading ads claiming that the ballot measure, Question 7, “will be a great benefit for children.” Question 7 asks, “Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education...?” Here’s the catch: Even if the purpose is to raise money for schools, it will not necessarily lead to an increase in school spending.
The group behind the ads—For Maryland Jobs and Schools—is a front group for entertainment giant MGM, which hopes to build a casino right outside Washington, D.C. It is doubtful that its main concern is education funding for Maryland students and jobs for Maryland residents.
As always, the deeper you dig, the murkier the issue becomes. Question 7 mandates that the education “trust fund” receives an increase (estimated at roughly $55 million by 2019). However, there is no guaranteed increase in overall school funding. The extra revenue in the trust fund could be used to cover cuts in the general fund dollars that otherwise would have gone to education. As the Baltimore Sun reported, “nothing
Last week, the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network brought together its member organizations for its annual confab, this year in Minneapolis. State-based school-reform-advocacy groups gathered with five national policy partners (Fordham included) to talk shop about our work to improve America’s schools.
Among the discussions about policy, strategy, tactics, and lessons learned (especially from Chicago), the most fascinating—and perhaps significant—conversation was about the school-reform agenda itself. What’s currently consuming the education-reform movement? What’s next up on the to-do list? And what potentially game-changing item is on the horizon? Allow me to report.
What's on the horizon for education reform ?
Photo by Thelonius58.
The first point (and perhaps an obvious one) is that reformers nationwide are deep in implementation mode. Thanks to huge state-level policy victories on common standards, teacher evaluations, school choice, and more (some of it inspired by the federal Race to the Top program), much focus has shifted to getting stuff done at the local level. That’s led some to call for a breather when it comes to new legislative activity. Like a snake that’s just swallowed a deer, most reformers (and the education system itself) simply can’t take anything else on right now.
But that’s not the case everywhere. In
In November 2010, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan presciently observed that, in coming years, educators would “face the challenge of doing more with less,” but warned against discouragement: “Enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of our education system lie ahead if we are smart, innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo.” The budget challenges Mr. Duncan foresaw are now reality: States and districts face tough decisions about education spending as revenue declines and federal stimulus spending dries up. But officials who have attempted to do more with less have often found themselves stymied in one key area by the intransigence of the very agency that Mr. Duncan leads.
Special-education spending is consuming an ever-growing slice of schol budgets.
Photo by Dinner Series.
The roadblock? A federal “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement in the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA, the federal special-education law) that handcuffs states and districts by requiring that special-ed spending never decline from one year to the next. In times of plenty, this mandate discourages efforts to make productivity gains; when revenues shrink, it means that special-education spending will consume an ever-growing slice of school budgets.
For one brief shining moment, Secretary Duncan appeared ready to end
Districts could save $10 billion, improve results, by shifting special-education staffing to national median
Download Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education
Special education consumes a growing share of increasingly tight district budgets but academic achievement among students with special needs continues to lag. How are districts spending their special-education dollars? Does spending more translate to better results for their students with special needs?
Today, Fordham is releasing a groundbreaking study that helps address those questions: Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education. Author Nate Levenson of the District Management Council uses the largest database of information on special education spending and staffing ever assembled to uncover significant variance in how districts staff for special education. Levenson concludes that if the high-spending districts studied reduce their staffing in this area to the national median the public could save $10 billion and offers clear recommendations for improving the quality and efficiency.
Download the study to learn more.
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.
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