Guest blogger Joshua Dunn is an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. In this post, originally published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, he dissects a judge's flawed ruling in a recent Colorado school funding case.
In a 2001 interview, a little-known state senator and law school professor from Illinois cautioned that courts are “poorly equipped” for making public policy. Pointing to problems with the legitimacy and ability of courts, particularly in the field of education, he advised seeking change through politics rather than through litigation. Sadly, both of Barack Obama’s concerns were exemplified in a Colorado state court decision last December.
In the long-running Lobato v. Colorado school finance case, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport declared that Colorado is underfunding education by more than $2 billion per year. She said that the seventeen-year-old Public School Finance Act violates the education clause of the state Constitution, which says that the state legislature shall provide a “thorough and uniform” system of public schools. She instructed the state legislature to design a school funding system that complies with her order. Although she did not specify a precise sum, her order indicated that billions of dollars of additional spending would be required every year.
Unfortunately for Rappaport, the Colorado Constitution consists of more than just the education clause. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires voter approval for tax increase. Voters must also approve spending increases which exceed the rate of inflation plus population growth. Another
One of Mike’s failed predictions for 2011 – that Michelle Rhee would embrace paycheck protection as part of her ed reform agenda – is still a worthy idea for StudentsFirst and other education advocacy organizations in 2012. These laws require members of teacher unions to give their express consent for the union to use their dues to make political contributions.
Teachers do not speak with one voice on political issues, even when it comes to K-12 policy. The “new normal” of tough budgets exposes how the incentives of newer teachers differ from more experienced ones, and new organizations like Educators 4 Excellence (which just opened an LA chapter) fight for a political voice for them that is independent of the union establishment. Last election, the Ohio Education Association actually attacked the husband of one its members in vicious television ads, using the teacher’s own dues to finance them.
Teacher unions are among the most powerful political actors in America on a wide range of issues (just ask Terry Moe, Paul Peterson, or Mike Antonucci). It’s not a given that that should be so, however, or that union intervention in partisan elections is always (or even often) good for teachers as a whole. Rhee and other education reformers would do well to add paycheck protection to their toolkit of reforms to increase parent power over education policy – and protect the rights of teachers to spend their paychecks on political issues they believe in, not on the agenda of labor leaders.
In case you missed it, Terry Ryan wrote a great post yesterday on the potential implications of Ohio's funding crisis for education in the state:
Ohio’s newspapers ran headlines today warning, “Money crunch pushes Downtown roadwork way back,” “Local highway projects face delays,” and “Last phase of I-75/I-475 project stalls.” The financial problems facing Ohio is scaling back big time infrastructure projects that have been in planning for years. According to the Columbus Dispatch the Ohio Department of Transportation “proposes pushing back 34 projects that had been planned to start by 2017 to dates as far off as 2036.
Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, captured the problem when he told the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Unfortunately, this is Ohio’s new reality. For too long, previous administrations have added more and more to the list of projects knowing that there were more projects than funds available. Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the state that there is simply not enough money to fund their projects."
In reading about the woes facing Ohio’s highway improvement efforts I couldn’t help but wonder if education in Ohio doesn’t face problems of similar scale.
Last week, Philadelphia’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Education made the dispiriting but long-expected announcement that the Archdiocese will close or consolidate nearly 50 schools. Keeping more than 150 schools open with enrollment down a third over the past decade is creating enormous cost pressure for the city’s parochial schools, and the Commission saw consolidation as the best hope for saving the nation’s first diocesan school system, a key part of Philadelphia’s heritage founded by St. John Neumann.
As we described in our 2008 report, Who Will Save America’s Urban Catholic Schools?, Catholic schools face major challenges in the form of declining enrollments, fewer vowed religious sisters and brothers available to teach students, and shifting population and demographic patterns. These pressures don’t only impact Catholic Americans, however. Anything that weakens the nation’s parochial schools means bad news for education generally, for three reasons:
- Catholic schools are relatively cheap. According to data from the National Catholic Educational Association, the average per pupil cost for Catholic elementary schools is just under $5,500, and the cost for high schools is less than $11,000 per student. The average for K-12 public schools is more than $10K per student, making Catholic schools a serious bargain, especially since private contributions further reduce the actual tuition charged to parents.
- Catholic schools are
effective. Achievement results on NAEP suggest
performance in parochial schools compares very
favorably to public schools. (Parents are pretty satisfied,
too!) This is a bargain for the country, with about two million students
getting a solid education for very few dollars (and almost no
- 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.