School Finance

From Schoolhouse to Courthouse: The Judiciary's Role in American Education examines the role of the courts in modern American K-12 education. From race to speech, from religion to school funding, few aspects of education policy have escaped the courtroom. In this book, experts describe just what the impact of judicial involvement has been. Published jointly by Fordham and Brookings Institution Press.

Education Week posted a blog recently with a link to the slew of comments offered up by folks in response the U.S. Department of Education's criteria for awarding the Race to the Top (RTTT) funds (i.e., $4 billion dollars in competitive grants). There are over 1,500 comments from educational organizations, think tanks, policymakers, advocacy groups, teachers, you name it...One could spend days and days combing through the PDF files, but here are a handful that I opened to read:

AERA: Like others, AERA is off-put by the emphasis on school turn-around strategies. They recommend that "all turn-around strategies proposed by state and local districts be strengthened by requiring a theoretical and research-based justification..." Don't hold your breath on that one. Unsurprisingly, they are also not happy about using student achievement as a central measure to evaluate teachers and principals. They contend that tests have not been validated for such purposes and that states should "justify whatever assessment measure [they] use rather than fixing on a single procedure."?? In other words, use multiple measures and water down the significance of student achievement...

Kate Walsh over at NCTQ is concerned that the definition of alternative certification routes in the RTTT language "seems more consistent with a traditional undergraduate preparation program than a true alternative." She's not keen on requiring a "clinical/student teaching experience" and says that the same goals can be met via intensive mentoring support.

Then there's a lengthy...

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Late last Friday, when it would attract little or no news coverage, the National Education Association offered its detailed feedback on Arne Duncan's "Race to the Top" plans. 26 pages worth.

Strictly speaking, these are comments on proposed federal regulations that will guide the Education Department in disbursing these billions, including funding priorities, rules for eligible applicants, etc. This is the mechanism by which the Obama team is striving--against considerable Congressional and school-establishment opposition--to turn the education portion of the "stimulus" dollars into a driver of reform rather than simply a back-filling budget subsidy for strapped states and districts.

Duncan has been clear from the outset about his priorities. Here is how he stated them in late July when the guidelines were published:

States seeking funds will be pressed to implement four core, interconnected reforms. We sometimes call them the four assurances, and those assurances are what we are going to be looking for from states, districts, and their local partners in reform. For starters, we expect that winners of the Race to the Top grants will work to reverse the pervasive dumbing down of academic standards and assessments that has taken place in many states....That's why we are looking for Race to the Top states to adopt common, internationally-benchmarked K-12 standards that truly prepare students for college and careers. To speed this process, the Race to the Top program is going to set aside $350 million to competitively fund the development of rigorous, common state assessments.

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Education Next has just released an interesting and tantalizing debate on school funds. In the wake of Flores, issues of funding equity have again risen to the fore. It's lucky then that the participants in this debate, Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth (authors of the tome??Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle??in America's Public Schools) and Michael Rebell (author of the forthcoming??Courts and??Kids: Pursuing Educational Equity through the State Courts) are here to hash it out. Hanushek and Lindseth argue that spending the money already going into education more wisely is the ticket, specifically by reforming teacher pay scales to a performance-based model. Rebell counters that if you take a second look at the numbers, American education funding is actually neither adequate nor equitable. Definitely worth a read!

And if this topic interests you, Fordham (in concert with Brookings) will be publishing its own (slightly more general) contribution on this conversation in the form of the forthcoming book From Schoolhouse to Courthouse. Keep an eye out for its release in August.

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Voucher opponents often argue that it's unfair to hold public schools accountable for results under the No Child Left Behind Act and various state rules while allowing private schools that participate in school voucher programs to receive taxpayer dollars without similar accountability. In pursuit of a reasonable middle ground, we sought the advice of twenty experts in the school-choice world. This paper presents their thoughts and opinions, as well as Fordham's own ideas.
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland's education plan calls for modernizing Ohio's K-12 education system, including the state's school-funding system, but the plan's so-called "evidence-based" approach would actually scuttle any modernizing efforts, argues this study issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
Ohio can boast of praiseworthy gains over the past decade in making school funding more equitable across districts, but there is more work to be done. To mitigate the school-finance inequities that remain within districts and gear school funding toward the realities of student mobility, school choice and effective school-based management, this report recommends that Ohio embrace Weighted Student Funding (WSF), which allocates resources based on the needs of individual students and by sending dollars directly to schools rather than lodging most spending decisions at the district level.

Margaret Spellings addressed the Reading First state directors on Thursday and complained about Congress's "devastating" budget cut of the program. It's about time. If she had shown even an iota of courage 18 months ago, when the so-called scandal first broke, the program might have remained in-tact. But as Sol Stern shows in painful detail, she and the rest of the Administration headed for cover instead. Such decisions have consequences, Madame Secretary, consequences that are all too real for the 4,000-odd schools likely to see their Reading First funds disappear.

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Despite its long history and prodigious size, all is not well with Ohio's teacher pension system. In this Fordham Institute report, nationally renowned economists Robert Costrell and Mike Podgursky illuminate some of the serious challenges facing STRS.
Everyone agrees that education funding today is a mess. But a broad, bipartisan coalition now urges a new method of funding our public schools--one that finally ensures the students who need the most receive it, that empowers school leaders to make key decisions, and that opens the door to public school choice. It's a 100 percent solution to the most pressing problems in public school funding--and it's called Weighted Student Funding.

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