A major impediment to improving outcomes for disadvantaged children in the nation’s schools is misallocation of the more than $600 billion we spend annually on K-12 education. Marguerite Roza from CRPE and Cindy Brown from the Center for American Progress brought up this very point at our governance conference this morning. (Live feed is here if you want to tune in.)
The Department of Education just released a national study (pdf) confirming with hard data what many experts have said for years: rigid salary schedules established are a major source of inequity within school districts. (It’s important to stress that this is not a “loophole,” but a carefully structured policy embedded in most contracts at the behest of teacher unions.) Here’s CAP’s Cindy Brown in the New York Times:
A few researchers have documented the problem with statewide data in Florida and some other states, said Cynthia Brown, a vice president at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group. “But I’m excited because this is the first time that data documenting the problem has ever been collected on a nationwide basis,” she said. “Many of us have known for a long time that in some individual districts the high-poverty schools weren’t getting their fair share of state and local funds.”
As Marguerite Roza said this morning at our conference, the way we spend money
Zachary Janowski at the Yankee Institute has an interesting take on school efficiency in Hartford, CT:
Ten Connecticut school districts can produce two high school graduates for the price of one Hartford high school diploma, according to Department of Education data.
The most recent 13 years of education, representing kindergarten through 12th grade, cost $165,275 in Hartford. With a graduation rate of 69.3 percent, the cost per diploma in Hartford is $238,492.
In 2010, Hartford’s costs were less than double the costs of the most efficient school districts.
Presumably, students who drop out gain some benefits from their schooling, even if they don’t receive a degree. But a partial high school education is not much of an asset in the labor market relative to completion of a rigorous secondary program and vocational training. This analysis reveals just how much of Hartford’s K-12 investment is being squandered for likely little gain in outcomes for kids who don’t make it to graduation day.
The Yankee Institute’s analysis reveals an important side of the “doing more with less” coin: Schools that can deliver higher quality and better outcomes for the same level of spending should be highlighted as best practices just as should schools that are able to trim expenses and achieve the same level of quality. Hopefully Hartford and other low-efficiency districts in Connecticut can look to their more productive peers for strategies to increase their graduation rates.
Protestors on UC campuses in California are focusing attention on the rising cost of higher education in the state’s public university system, which has seen cuts in state support of over a billion dollars. A Berkeley administrator sums up the concern:
“The rapidly rising fees give us all heartburn,” said Gibor Basri, the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion at Berkeley, who has met with the protesters several times. “We don’t believe that higher education is a private right but a public good.”
The funding challenge in higher ed has implications for K-12 spending as well. Society has a responsibility to fund education — both to provide equality of opportunity for all children and to develop human capital for the improvement of civic life and our economy. But what to do when taxpayers have already provided massive increases in funding after inflation over a sustained period, as they have for K-12 over the past several decades?
We can’t afford to focus only on the revenue side of the equation anymore if our goal is to ensure that quality education remains a public good. Just as taxpayers have their responsibility for this good, so, too, do service providers entrusted with public dollars: teachers, administrators, and school boards. When these folks avoid having tough conversations about efficiency, they weaken society’s promise of a free, top-notch education for all.
Reformers who are focused on “doing more with less” in the nation’s schools should
As school levies fail across central Ohio, I am concerned and disappointed to see so many school districts quickly threaten to reduce the quality of our children’s education. Providing an excellent education for our children may be the single most important thing we can do as responsible citizens.
To give hope to our children in tough economic times, we must learn to do more with less. When I read the statement made by Westerville’s school-board president, “We’ll be looking at state-minimum requirements,” I lost confidence in the leadership of the district in which I live. As the operator of the Columbus Collegiate Academy, a charter school on the Near East Side, I run a school on a shoestring budget. Unlike traditional district schools, we don’t have access to local property-tax dollars.
When I see levies on the ballot, I can only dream about what we could do for our students, 94 percent of whom are minorities and 88 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, with additional revenue. Although it is unlikely we ever will receive public revenue at the same level as others, we would never settle for providing our students with “state-minimum requirements.”
Instead of slighting our
- 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.