Last month, the District of Columbia’s CFO discovered a nice chunk of unexpected revenue, some $42 million, had come the city’s way. The mayor promptly called for half of the money to go to the District’s public schools. In apparent disregard of the law, however, the mayor wants to give the whole $21M windfall to DCPS, bailing them out for a loss of federal funding and mismanagement of the district’s food service and merit pay programs. See Bill Turque’s characterization of the budget holes this bailout will fill:
DCPS said the extra $21.4 million budgeted by Gray is needed to address several issues: Congressional cuts in federal payments ($4.5 million); overruns in food service caused by higher labor and food costs and lower federal reimbursements ($10.7 million); mandated merit-based salary increases for teachers ($2.8 million); and the rising cost of excessed non-instructional employees who were removed from school budgets but are being carried on the central office books.
Privately, senior Gray administration officials said DCPS finances have historically been plagued by cost overruns, attributable to persistent overspending by school system leadership and weak oversight by Gandhi’s office.
Charter sector leaders in D.C. are incensed that DCPS is getting a huge payout to fill budget holes while they get nothing. They’re right to be angry. In the hands of charter school leaders, these funds could go to building new programs to help the 40-plus percent of the city’s students educated outside DCPS.
Charter sector leaders in D.C. are incensed that DCPS is getting a huge payout to fill budget holes while they get nothing.
It also shows
House Republicans have released two more bills in their effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act piece by piece. The draft legislation proposed last week seeks to provide superintendents and state departments of education with more flexibility about how to spend federal dollars, dramatically remaking the American school finance system in the process.
The first gift the committee wants to give districts is increased flexibility to transfer categorical funds aimed at one underserved population into Title I. (You may recall that Mike called for something very similar more than a year ago.) This could wind up being a huge plus for children in these programs, enabling the funding of whole-school programs to address the needs of underprivileged youngsters without the mountains of red tape that currently accompany these dollars.
Second, the proposed law would repeal the so-called "maintenance of effort" requirement, which makes certain federal grant funds contingent on states and localities continuing to spend the same amount of their own money on education. This is becoming increasingly difficult to do in light of other budget pressures, including rising health care costs (both in Medicaid and on public worker payrolls).
On a whole, the House committee's proposals seem like a step towards more sensible school finance system.
Maintenance of effort requirements also hold federal grant-giving hostage to the fallacy that education simply costs what it costs, year in and year out, with regular increases in funding and no improvements in productivity. With continuing fiscal pressure at all levels of government, districts and charter schools are beginning to explore smart
A reader from the Raleigh News & Observer wrote in when the blog launched earlier this week to let me know about a program that could be useful to classroom teachers looking to get great materials for free.
News in Education (NIE) is a program sponsored by many newspapers around the country that provides access to free newspaper content (either electronically or with physical papers in some cases) to K-12 teachers for use in their classrooms. The classroom materials seem to vary in quality, but many offer lessons drawn from newspaper content in disciplines from reading and social studies to math and science, and in any case the free newspaper access is valuable in and of itself.
If you're an educator or school leader, check out the Newspaper Association of America Foundation's page on NIE programs for a list of papers near you offering the resource. Looks like a great way to get timely reading material and other resources for the classroom for a song. Thanks to reader Courtney Clark of the N&O for the tip!
Teacher pay is back in the news, with a good roundup of opinion on the New York Times' Room for Debate page. We hear the usual comparisons between teachers and other workers — and some unusual ones (teachers vs. bartenders?).
The problem seems to be how we allocate resources, not how much money is available.
All the contributors miss a point that hits principals and superintendents the hardest, however: If a good teacher walks out the door to work in another district, or another profession entirely, because his manager doesn't have the flexibility to pay him more (and potentially pay a less-effective colleague less in order to balance the staff budget), something is screwed up about teacher pay. Given how much money we spend on K-12 education in America, and how quickly budgets have grown compared to modest enrollment growth, the problem seems to be how we allocate resources, not how much money is available.
Note that this is not about building bigger and better state- or district-wide formulas as some education reformers prefer. Value-added models are great tools for principals to evaluate their teachers, but there's no reason to believe they're a silver bullet. Subjective measures like attitude and teamwork matter, after all, and principals shouldn't necessarily have their hands tied on how they use objective, test-based measures.
The credentialism and bias toward seniority preferred by teacher unions isn't helpful, either. A principal who is losing an amazing fifth-year teacher who only has a BA doesn't care what the salary scale says she can pay; she wants to retain her star
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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.