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
Georgia is on the road to eliminating seniority-based layoffs throughout the state. The big news is that they're replacing it with a flexible, sensible option for performance evaluation to be determined by local school and district managers.
GA's Senate Bill 184 sets three basic policies. First, local school boards cannot use length of tenure as the "primary or sole determining factor" in deciding whom to lay off during reductions in force. Second, performance should be the primary determining factor in making these layoffs. The bill states clearly that "one measure of [teacher performance] may be student academic performance." That is, local districts are free to decide how much to weight to assign to test scores and the like, and for which teachers they're relevant. Third, the bill establishes a commission of teachers, ed school profs, school managers, and others to identify effective professional development opportunities by 2015 to help all teachers improve their craft. It looks likely that the governor will sign the bill into law.
Some teachers and union folks say we can't evaluate teachers until we have a universally-valid evaluation system. Some reformers cling to a magical 50% weight for student test scores (or value-added) for performance evaluations, as if that's applicable to every locale and circumstance. Both approaches are wrong-headed. This bill moves in the right direction of setting a broad framework for reductions in force while empowering districts to work out the details locally.
? Chris Tessone
As you probably know by now, the President and Congress came to a budget agreement late last night that will keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. The deal apparently includes a five-year reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a popular voucher program for kids in the District:
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program ? which provides low-income District students with federal money to attend private schools ? is a top priority of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The program was closed to new entrants by Democrats in 2009, but Boehner has sought to revive and expand the program. The House passed a Boehner-authored bill last month -- the SOAR Act -- to reauthorize the program for five more years, and that bill will be included in the final spending deal and signed into law by Obama.
The SOAR Act includes the so-called "three sector" payments, meaning that DCPS and public charter schools will also benefit from the program. I worked in the charter financing office in DC last summer and saw how much good those funds have done for the charter sector in the city. This seems like a big win for school choice and all kids in DC.
Districts in many states are spending the last of their federal stimulus dollars, and their strategy for dealing with the resulting fiscal pressure is: freak out and fire people.
The combined weight of those state and federal cuts would force Florida's Volusia County school district to cut an estimated 900 employees, including teachers, administrators, and clerical staff, said Margaret A. Smith, the system's superintendent.
The district, which has a total operating budget of about $470 million, also might have to cut back programs in art, music, and physical education, as well as extracurricular and sports programs, she said.
Volusia County is a good object lesson in why it's turning out to be so hard for districts to do more with less and what that failure costs. Unable to adjust classroom staffing due to Florida's onerous class-size mandates, the district is requiring principals like Marie Stratton to pull double duty managing multiple schools. Based on her schools' enrollment figures, she's managing 35-plus teachers and who knows how many paraprofessionals, yet the district is powerless to increase class sizes by one kid to pay for the managerial capacity they need for each school.
Not that most districts are being all that forward-thinking even where they're free to innovate. The "creative steps" Ed Week reports that schools are considering involve sharing services with other districts. Good for what it's worth, but hardly high-impact.
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.