Connecting the Dots: School Spending and Student Progress Financial Allocation Study for Texas 2010 (FAST)
This timely and useful study provides precisely the type of information that financially-strapped school districts need to trim their bottom lines—without sacrificing student learning. Written by Susan Combs, The Lone Star State’s fearless comptroller, at the behest of her state legislature, the report identifies Texas school districts that achieve strong student performance while keeping spending growth at bay. Quite an assignment in a state that increased its per-pupil spending by 63 percent in the last decade (and that’s after taking enrollment growth into account). To determine which districts could deliver this formidable one-two punch, Combs employed two metrics. First, she and her team used a value-added model (controlling for various student, district, and campus characteristics) to measure academic progress over three years in reading and math. Then, they devised a spending index for each district and campus by comparing them to their “fiscal peers” (sites that serve comparable numbers and types of students and operate in similar cost environments). Based on a combination of these two metrics, value-added and spending data, each district or campus received a rating of one to five stars, indicating the extent to which it produced strong academic growth at a lower cost compared to peers. Five-star ratings, meaning fantastic student progress and low spending compared to fiscal peers, are rare. Only forty-three of the 1,235 school districts and charter schools analyzed received a five-star rating (eleven of which were charters). To bump up that number, the report offers cost-cutting solutions for districts—like relaxing class-size limits and sharing facilities and services. Though it stops short of recommending cutting teacher positions, the report takes a hard line on the ballooning administrative posts in Texas. Eliminate 1,500 positions, and bring the state back down to its 1998-99 levels, recommends Combs. It’ll save roughly $115 million annually in salaries alone. Along with the written report, FAST includes a nifty website that allows districts to compare their achievement, expenditures, and resource allocations to other districts. “The FAST system is a national innovation that should be copied by other states,” says Eric Hanushek. We couldn’t agree more: If we are going to do more with less, we need to know what the more or less gets us.
Susan Combs, “Connecting the Dots: School Spending and Student Progress,” Financial Allocation Study for Texas 2010 (Austin, TX: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, 2010).
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