Guest blogger Nate Levenson, author of Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools and a forthcoming Fordham Institute report on special-education spending, analyzes Fordham’s latest report, How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education.
“We should, but we can’t. The public will never support it!” In school boards and central offices around the country, these words end the discussion of many a good idea for more thoughtfully spending limited K-12 dollars.
John Q. Public is a lot more rational than many school and district leaders think.
I heard them time and time again as superintendent, when I floated more than a few nonconventional ideas for stretching the school dollar. I always countered with “How do you know what the public will support?” An honest answer would have been, “We don’t really know.”
Thanks to some much needed and insightful research from the Fordham Institute’s How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education, by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett, we finally do know what tactics the public supports (and loathes) when school budgets get tight. The good news is that John Q. Public is a lot more rational than many school and district leaders think and that some (but not all) of ed reformer’s favorite ideas have broad support. On the down side some very promising concepts lack widespread support.
Americans, according to this scientifically conducted study, want good value for their tax dollars. Quality seems to trump all else. Nearly three quarters believe that teachers with poor
In November 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered a widely noted address about the tough economic times facing American K-12 education. “I am here,” he said, “to talk today about what has been called the New Normal. For the next several years, preschool, K–12, and postsecondary educators are likely to face the challenge of doing more with less.”
Twenty months later, it’s clear that the Secretary’s warning was right on point. Many states face bona fide budget crises and, as a recent report by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and ex-New York Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch warns, these strains will worsen in the coming years. Depressed housing values have meant skimpier property-tax revenues for schools; voters have balked at passing local levies; federal “stimulus” dollars have dried up; Medicaid costs are headed through the roof. Once limited to a handful of budget-conscious superintendents and state officials, discussions about how to curtail education costs are taking place in virtually every district and school across America.
Is America ready for this sour fiscal lemon? Is there any possibility of lemonade, i.e., making reforms in a time of budgetary stress that might not otherwise be possible? Secretary Duncan thought so:
My message is that this challenge can, and should, be embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements. I believe enormous opportunities for improving the productivity of our
Guest blogger Eleanor Laurans, a senior principal at The Parthenon Group, co-authored "The Costs of Online Learning," a chapter in Fordham's new volume, Education Reform for the Digital Era.
“Online learning is a cheaper way to educate my kids? That’s great—where do we sign up?!”
I don’t know many parents who would utter such a remark—do you?
Our team’s research for our recent chapter of the Fordham book, Education Reform for the Digital Era, did in fact demonstrate that online learning can be less expensive—sometimes significantly less expensive—than traditional bricks-and-mortar schools. This is an important and exciting finding, as many schools today are striving to figure out ways to navigate budget crises. But it would be a mistake to focus solely on cost as the field of digital learning evolves. Of course there are cheaper ways to educate our kids. The critical question is, Can online learning be less expensive and better for students?
We don't know if online learning works. We hope it does. Technology has certainly been integrated into almost every other sector of our economy, so why not education? Our colleagues in higher education have certainly made progress integrating online learning, with a third of current postsecondary students taking at least one online course.
Despite some signs of economic recovery, school districts nationwide continue to struggle mightily. The combination of a depressed property tax base and built-in cost escalators produces recurring gaps that demand budget cuts every year just to keep doing the same old thing… and the long-term outlook isn’t much brighter.
Make no mistake: The “new normal” of tougher budget times—as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calls it—is here to stay for American K-12 education.
Tight budgets should encourage districts to spend smartly and stretch funds, rather than harm education with shortsighted cuts.
Photo by blognd
While that presents plenty of hardships, it also offers local officials a golden opportunity to rethink the way we run schools and to boost productivity and efficiency, a point I make in my new policy brief, “How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar.”
Let’s start with a few key principles to keep in mind when weighing cuts:
Solving our budget crisis shouldn’t come at the expense of children. We should do everything we can to protect students’ learning opportunities and boost their achievement.
Nor can it come from teachers’ sacrifice alone. Suppressing teacher salaries forever isn’t a recipe for recruiting bright young people into education—or retaining the excellent teachers we have now.
Quick fixes aren’t a
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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