School Finance

Has the U.S. government’s $3.5 billion School Improvement Grant (SIG) program delivered as promised? The data from Ohio indicates that the answer is no—but with a glaring exception.

SIG is a federal grant program, which has been funded heavily through the 2009 stimulus act. Its goal is to improve the academic performance of persistently low-performing schools. In March 2010, Ohio received a three-year, $132 million grant; the Ohio Department of Education then allocated funds to eligible schools based on a competitive grant process. In spring 2010, over 200 schools applied, and 35 schools received funding.[1]

In return for the funds (up to $2 million per year for a school), the grantee is required to implement one of four intervention models: turnaround—replacing the principal and 50 percent or more of the staff; restart—closing a school and reopening under new management, possibly a charter school; school closure; or, transformation—leaving staff in place but implementing plans to improve instructional effectiveness, extend learning time, et cetera. Most schools in Ohio and across the nation have selected the transformation model, what we have argued is the “easiest” model.

Given the sizeable cash infusion, together with the required interventions to turnaround the school, we might expect to see strong and positive gains in school-level performance.

But one does not observe across-the-board improvements in achievement.

The chart below shows the change in achievement scores for Ohio’s first cohort of SIG schools, from 2009-10 (pre-SIG) to 2011-12 (the second year of SIG...

Categories: 

There’s no shortage of political gridlock and bad news when it comes to public-sector pension reform. (Consider recent goings-on in Chicago and Philadelphia.) But the reforms that Wisconsin undertook in 2011give cause for hope on this front—at least for the time being.

Milwaukee: Saved by Act 10 For Now

According to a technical report released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (an easier-on-readers summary report by Dara Zeehandelaar and Amber M. Winkler can be found here), authors Robert M. Costrell and Larry Maloney predict that the new authority granted under the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill—also known as “Act 10,” the measure that focused attention on the Wisconsin statehouse in 2011 and put newly-elected Governor Scott Walker into the spotlight—did much good for the Milwaukee Public Schools’ perilous fiscal condition. It reduced that district’s per-pupil spending on teacher retirement from a projected $3,512 in 2020 to a far more affordable $1,924 per pupil.

Good news, yes. (See media coverage here, here, and here.) But Act 10’s pay-as-you-go policy on retiree health benefits means that some sizable costs, necessary to meet obligations to current employees, are simply being postponed. Changes made by the state and district give MPS some time, but further action may still be required.

Still and all, Milwaukee—and Wisconsin—have taken significant (if painful) steps toward resolving...

Categories: 

StudentsFirst has made a thoughtful contribution to the burgeoning literature on school governance with its new policy brief Change the Leadership, Change the Rules: Improving Schools and Districts through Mayoral and State Governance. In it, the group argues that school boards have been largely ineffective in urban areas and examines two main alternatives: mayoral control and state control—the latter preferably via the “recovery district” model. It’s a short and snappy synopsis.

The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project has produced another worthy read: Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education is organized around three theses: inequality is on the rise against a backdrop of low social mobility; the U.S. is experiencing a growing divide in educational investments and outcomes based on family income; and education and smart interventions can help—such as those outlined in Caroline Hoxby’s Expanding College Opportunities project and Ben Castleman’s Summer Melt study. While the facts themselves are not new, the report offers an accessible and logical assemblage. Dig in!

On Monday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder chose finance expert Jack Martin to succeed Roy Roberts as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Martin enters the ring with four decades of private- and public-sector experience under his belt, including stints as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education and emergency manager of Highland Park Schools (another troubled school district in the Detroit metro area). What’s more, he is himself a DPS graduate. Martin is surely well credentialed and...

Categories: 

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has been called a lot of things over the past two years; many of these epithets are unprintable in this family-friendly publication. But according to a new Fordham report, he deserves one more: public-education hero.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin
Standards are not self actualizing; unless thoroughly implemented and properly assessed, they have scant traction.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons

That’s because his Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill of 2011—better known as Act 10, the endlessly contentious measure that shrank (to wages only) the scope of collective bargaining for Badger State teachers—defused the fiscal time bomb that otherwise would have blown up Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

Pre-Act 10, MPS was drowning in the rising waters of its retirement obligations (both pensions and retiree health benefits) to current and former teachers. In 2011, it spent $1,860 per pupil for this purpose, more than a tenth of the district’s budget. But the waters were slated to get far deeper.

According to a new technical study by economist Robert M. Costrell and education-finance expert Larry Maloney, MPS was on track to spend as much as $3,512 per pupil by 2020 on retiree health benefits and pension costs, money that would inevitably impact classrooms and students in unfortunate ways. Put differently, without Act 10,...

Categories: 
One of three technical reports on retirement costs and school-district budgets.
Terry livens up the airwaves, bantering with Mike about NCTQ’s blockbuster report, the Blaine Amendment, and Philly’s budget woes. Amber waltzes through the dance of the lemons.

GadflyNew York City’s graduation rate dipped very slightly in 2012—information that was hailed as a win by Mayor Bloomberg, given that the class of 2012 was the first cohort not given the option to graduate with an easier-to-obtain “local diploma.”

The United Federation of Teachers has announced its support for former city comptroller Bill Thompson’s bid for mayor of New York City—the union’s first endorsement in a mayoral election in more than a decade. But have no fear, ye other candidates—Mayor Bloomberg has derisively dubbed the union endorsement a “kiss of death” (to which the union responded by likening Bloomberg’s approval as “worse than a zombie attack”). And Gotham politics continue.

Earlier this week, New Hampshire Superior Court judge John Lewis bucked U.S. Supreme Court precedent and ruled that the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program directed public money to religious schools, in violation of the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment—a provision banning government aid to “sectarian” schools that has its roots in the anti-Catholic bigotry pervasive in the late 1800s. (Blaine Amendments still exist in thirty-six other states.) Judge Lewis’s ruling marks the first time a tax-credit-scholarship program has been struck down on these grounds. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had determined that tax-credit-scholarship money never reaches the state treasury and thus cannot be considered public. An appeal in the...

Categories: 

GadflyAccording to the Times, ability grouping is back, after being unfairly stigmatized in the late 1980s and 1990s by misguided ideologues. We hope it’s true, because such grouping enables teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students appropriately—and can be used to match learning styles as well as achievement levels. (Free speech endures at Fordham, however, and not everyone concurs.)

Following school-board squabbles and the subsequent implementation of a new but compromised governance structure (by which the county executive appoints the district CEO and three school-board members), the Prince George’s County public schools have a new board chairman: NEA Director of Teacher Quality Segun Eubanks. We know and respect Eubanks and wish him the best of luck—but can’t help but smirk. What a classic case of the union sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.

To help close its $304 million budget deficit (brought on in large part by skyrocketing pension costs), the school district of Philadelphia announced that it has pink-slipped 3,783 employees: 676 teachers, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, and 1,202 noontime aides—a move that Superintendent Hite called “nothing less than catastrophic.” We hate to say, “I told you so”…...

Categories: 

After a judge ruled last year that Los Angeles was in violation of the Stull Act—a forty-year-old state law signed by Governor Ronald Reagan requiring that principal and teacher evaluations include student-achievement measures, and spurred on by Los Angeles’s ongoing attempt at obtaining a district-level NCLB waiver, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy announced that, as of next year, the district will “fully implement the evaluation changes” tested in an ongoing pilot program.

After three years of failed negotiations and angst galore, New York City has a teacher-evaluation plan. Teachers’ evaluation ratings will be comprised of student-test scores (20 to 25 percent), school-established measures (15 to 20 percent), and in-class or video-recorded observations (55 to 60 percent). But don’t break out the celebratory flan just yet! Some are balking at plans to assess subjects like art, gym, and foreign languages, and at least one mayoral candidate has already come out against the plan.

On Tuesday, D.C. councilmember David Catania announced seven proposals that could reform the District’s public education system dramatically—including a five-year facility plan and a process for handing over surplus buildings to charters. For her part, Chancellor Kaya Henderson expressed interest in some pieces (e.g., more money to low-performing high schools) but resisted the more dramatic ones (e.g., a set metric that would mandate closure for consistently underperforming schools)....

Categories: 

Pages