School Finance

Pre-Kindergarten
We've argued that states should target scare resources at the neediest kids—but clearly the states haven't listened.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

The National Institute for Early Education Research, which is as much an advocacy group as it is a think tank, is out with its annual yearbook on state-funded preschool programs. And its (desired) headline is that “per pupil funding” is down dramatically.

That headline shows up in several press accounts (like here and here), but it’s incredibly misleading. Let me quote the report’s executive summary:

  • Total spending by states [from 2002-2012] has risen from $3.47 billion to $5.12 billion. Adjusting for inflation, this is a real increase of $1.65 billion in current dollars or 48 percent. In allocating these increases states have tended to favor expansion of enrollment over adequate funding for quality.
  • By 2011-2012, per-child spending had fallen below $4,000, the lowest in a decade. This reflects a drop of more than $1,000, adjusting for inflation, since 2001-2002 year, and is a 23 percent decline.

In his 2009 book Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argued that states should target scarce resources at the neediest kids, rather than spreading the money around. Clearly the states haven’t listened. They’ve boosted funding—but boosted the number of children...

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Since 1986, over 557 school districts throughout Ohio have taken advantage of a very generous program, courtesy of taxpayers, that allows school districts to pay for capital improvements done to their facilities.  According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, this program has funded over 952 projects, involving over 6,089 buildings, at a cost of over $1.25 billion, while saving taxpayers over $115 million.  However, this privilege is open to district schools and their buildings only, and denied to charter schools. 

The program, formally known as the Ohio School Facilities Commission Energy Conservation Program or the House Bill 264 Program, enables school districts to make energy-related improvements to district buildings that in theory would generate enough energy savings to eventually pay off the improvement bond from which the capital originated from its issuance, along with the cost of financing.  The cost savings over 15 years for energy, operational, and maintenance must equal or exceed the cost of implementing the measures.  The program allows energy-related improvements, as opposed to merely repairs.  This may seem like semantics until the discussion turns on how exactly projects are paid for. 

In Ohio, tax levies are typically raised in order to fund capital projects, including improvements to school buildings.  Ohio law requires that such levies must be submitted to the voters of the school district for approval.  Under HB 264, however, school districts can bypass this process of accountability by invoking the desired project as a qualified, energy-related, permanent improvement.

Once could argue that HB...

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This sixth paper in the Digital Learning Now! “Smart Series” details how archaic education-financing structures represent a fundamental barrier to innovation (whether that be digital learning or faithful implementation of rigorous standards) in today’s K–12 sector—and sets forth four “design principles” for a modern funding structure. None of these recommendations for restructuring school funding is new (indeed, they’re largely built off work Fordham produced in 2006), but they’re worthy all the same: To allow innovation to take hold, funding must be weighted, flexible, and portable. It also must be based on performance, the authors argue. (A good idea—though one challenging to implement.) This paper provides a solid primer on all four—including tangible examples of states and districts that have made these changes. San Francisco, for example, rolled out a weighted-student funding system in 2002 that provides dollars to schools based on student grade level, socioeconomic status, special needs, and English language proficiency. Each school is then responsible for creating a budget tailored to its specific needs, with the central office in charge of training and monitoring schools. Yet another helpful DLN paper, chockablock with smart, actionable policy recommendations.

SOURCE: John Bailey, Carrie Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark, Funding Students, Options, and Achievement (Tallahassee, FL: Foundation for Excellence in Education, April 2013)....

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The Columbus Dispatch is reporting today that Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools will be discontinuing their experiment with charter school creation at the end of this school year. The school of 110 students in grades 9-12 will be absorbed into the district. The main reason cited: once start-up funds ran out ($450,000 from the federal government’s Public Charter School Program), Gahanna Community School’s board and staff were unable to maintain operations with the fractional per-pupil funding provided monthly by the state to all charter schools. Upper Arlington closed a charter school for similar reasons last year.

While it is tempting for me to snark about “unscrupulous charter operators” (believe me, I wrote that blog post and it was really funny) and to rage that the federal government should get its start-up money back from Gahanna-Jefferson and Upper Arlington too, I think it is more important to talk about the object lesson that this situation presents.

The fiscal picture painted by the board and staff of GSC is the daily reality of almost all charter schools across the state: once the start-up funds are spent, the per pupil funding provided for school operations by the state – with no local funds and no facility dollars – is at least a third less than what is available to even the poorest of public districts in Ohio. Gahanna cites the savings that will be had by not having to pay $85,000 for filing separate state data and paying for separate financial...

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During construction of the continental railroads in the 1860s, workers dug from both ends to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains. When they met in the middle, the tunnel was finished and the trains could roll. This is how America became a great continental power. This image of the tunnel bored from two directions is an apt metaphor for what needs to happen with Governor Kasich’s biennial budget proposal (House Bill 59) and the very different plan emerging from the Ohio House this week.

Governor Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” plan has three main things going for it. First, it actually tries to target children and the schools they actually attend as the loci of public funding, as opposed to just spreading money across school districts. Traditionally, school funding has been about simply spreading the money around so far more districts feel like winners than losers. The House version does this by reducing the number of districts receiving no new money from nearly 400 to 175. But in doing so the House version loses some of the worthy Kasich reforms. 

Specifically, Kasich’s plan proposed reducing one-size fits all spending restrictions by removing a number of minimum operating standards.  This would free up educators but the House puts those standards back in place. They mandate practices like assignment of personnel and the use of specific instructional materials (especially odd considering the speed at which blended learning is spreading across the state). The House version also requires fixed staffing ratios...

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GadflyThe Obama administration’s budget proposal was late to the party and is mostly a big yawn—at least when it comes to K–12 education. The big-ticket items, such as they are: level-funding for Title I and IDEA; new efforts to promote STEM education and tweak American high schools; and a Race to the Top for higher education. The real firepower is reserved for the President’s well-designed Pre-K plan, which would be the biggest federal expansion into early childhood since the creation of Head Start, to be financed by a huge increase in cigarette taxes. Were it not for Congressional realities, it might even be something to get excited about.

After changing part of the exam it uses to determine which four-year-olds are eligible for the coveted gifted-and-talented slots in its public schools, New York City has (very slightly) reduced the number of children who qualify. Yet most of the high scorers still came from the city’s richer areas—a problem, given that they altered the test precisely in order to combat the influence of income-related factors, such as test-prep programs. And (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) there still aren’t enough suitable options for gifted children.

Researchers from Yale, MIT, USC, and Stanford, with a little pocket change (i.e., a $10 million grant) from the National Science Foundation, are experimentally placing...

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Terry Ryan addresses a gathering of the Ohio League of Women Voters at the Riffe Center on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Terry Ryan was a guest of the Ohio League of Women Voters today during their annual Statehouse Day, participating in a panel session on education funding in Ohio with Dr. William Phillis, Executive Director of The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.

A standing room only crowd of highly-engaged individuals from across Ohio listened to opening statements that looked back at least as much at the history of education funding in Ohio as they looked to the future of that funding, as proposed in the current state budget, HB 59. Dr. Phillis presented the history of changes in the organization and administration and funding of “the public common school” since 1821, raising alarms over loss of money from existing districts via charter schools and vouchers as well as alarms over the loss of local control of education and the loss of community when schooling is not held in common in a given area of the state. He previewed his public testimony for Wednesday by arguing forcefully for a legislative education commission – of the kind that existed in Ohio off and on from 1913 to the 1980s – to research and inform the General Assembly on matters of public education.

Terry took a similar historical view, but noting how very many...

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GadflyA fierce school-choice debate rages in Alabama—but the threat to the Common Core standards has receded, for now. When it became clear that the Senate Education Committee would not approve a bill to revoke the Heart of Dixie’s commitment to the standards, the sponsor of the bill himself withdrew it from consideration. This is well and good. Now maybe they can get back to safeguarding the separation of powers—and implementing the Common Core.

South Dakota has the (dubious) honor of being the first state to explicitly authorize school employees to carry guns to work. State groups representing teachers and school boards expressed concern that the bill had been rushed to a vote, did not actually make schools safer, and ignored other approaches to safety, such as employing armed officers. In related news, a Texas school employee recently shot himself at a concealed-carry class for teachers.

Boston has approved a new school-assignment plan that reflects not just geography but also school quality—amounting to the greatest change in the way that the city assigns students in twenty-five years and “finally dismantling the remnants of the notorious [1970s] busing plan.” Mike Petrilli is optimistic; for his take, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

The opposition to KIPP DC’s plan to build a new high school is indicative of challenges that most charter schools face: Its future neighbors...

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Special-education funding is a thorny landscape, within which lie sundry footpaths whereby dollars are allocated via intersecting trails of state, local, and federal statutes and regulations. More difficult still is that few states offer trail maps for this complex terrain. Data are cumbersome; evaluations of program effectiveness are rarely undertaken. This is what makes this account from Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor so refreshing. The mixed-methods report explains the characteristics and costs of special education in the Gopher State, as well as the practical effects of the state’s special-ed requirements—and offers recommendations for the state legislature on how to lower special-education costs and streamline compliance regulations. In Minnesota, for example, the number of special-education students increased 11 percent between 1999–2000 and 2010–11, and spending on this group bumped up 22 percent (this while overall student enrollment dropped 3 percent). According to district leaders, this has meant that “school districts have had to divert a substantial portion of general education dollars and local operating levies to pay for special education expenditures.” The report offers the legislature a number of suggestions for how to counteract these trends. For example: Supply districts with comparative data on different staffing patterns and their costs. As special-education costs rise (even as disability identification in the nation continues to decline), more such mapping and bushwhacking must be done. Expect more from Fordham on this front in the upcoming months.

SOURCE: James Nobles, Jody Hauer, Sarah Roberts Delacueva, and Jodi Munson Rodriguez, Evaluation Report:...

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Governor Kasich’s budget plan, now being debated in the House, calls for expanding the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship program. This statewide voucher program is one of four public voucher programs currently available to parents and students in the Buckeye State. Together these programs allow about 22,500 students to use publicly funded vouchers to attend a private or parochial school of their choice. The governor’s proposal would provide, on a first come first serve basis, vouchers starting in 2013-14 for any kindergartner with a household income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level – about $46,000 a year for a family of four. Voucher amounts would be up to $4,250 a year, and participating schools could not charge tuition above this amount.

In 2014-15, voucher eligibility would extend to all students in grades K-3 in a school building that gets low marks in the early literacy measure on the state’s new report card. The funding for the voucher will not be deducted from a school district’s state aid, but rather be paid out directly by the state. Kasich’s budget allocates $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 for 2,000 new vouchers and $17 million in 2015 for up to 4,000 new vouchers.

Despite the modest scale of this proposed growth, and the fact the state will cover the voucher amounts, district educators are up in arms about the expansion. Yellow Springs’ Superintendent Mario Basora captured the view of many district officials across the state when he told the Dayton Daily...

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