The Feds can't fix district finances

We at Fordham strongly believe school districts can and should learn to spend their dollars more effectively. That said, I can't agree with Kristi Bowman's idea that Congress should mandate "fiscal accountability measures" in its reauthorization of ESEA:

Congress could require that as a condition of receiving funding under the ESEA, each state must: (1) help school districts create immediate, additional cost savings; (2) publicly monitor districts' fiscal health and create a plan for escalating involvement when a district nears and reaches fiscal crisis; and (3) assist in stabilizing districts' revenues for the long term.

I'm not sure why there should be a role for the federal government in this (the paper on which the EdWeek article is based seems to boil this down to "because it's important" and "because the Feds can"). That is far from the only worry I have, though. Bowman also calls for a federal maintenance of effort mandate for all state school spending throughout the country. Not only would it make fiscal crises worse (if you can't cough up enough state funding, you lose your federal funding!), but innovative state policies to save money would now be illegal.

There are some good ideas here, too, though. Bowman calls for state governments to have plans in place ahead of time to restructure financially troubled school districts; many states have simply not thought this through. She's wrong that funding cliffs and fiscal crises can be eliminated, but the consequences need not be so catastrophic as they've proven to be this time.

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