School Finance

Darned USPS.

It appears that back in 2001 or so, now-Governor of Delaware Jack Markell wrote an opinion piece about private school choice. Because of some snafu at the post office, his letter just recently made it to Education Week.

Though some education issues are evergreen (say, the importance of highly effective teachers and strong content standards), much has changed over the last decade-plus in the world of private school choice. Unfortunately, for Markell (well, and for all of us), his out-of-date column was published.

If the governor could call a do-over, I’m sure he’d make adjustments in at least four areas.

First, he argued for limiting choice to the public system—“among traditional, charter, and magnet schools.” Obviously, 2001 Markell couldn’t have known that the public schools sector would be unable to create the number of seats needed. Indeed, as of last year, more than a million students were on charter waitlists nationwide.

Moreover, there’s no way he could have foreseen that future governors who claimed to support public school choice would actually take action to inhibit charter growth. For example, the Markell of 2001 never would have predicted that the Markell of 2015 would ...

According to a paper released this week by the American Enterprise Institute, charter authorizers are putting too many meaningless application requirements on organizations that propose to open schools, thereby limiting school autonomy and creating far too much red tape.

The report shares lessons, provides authorizer Dos and Don’ts, and divides charter application criteria into categories of appropriate and inappropriate based on AEI’s analysis of application requirements from forty authorizers around the land. The authors conclude that:

  • Charter applications could be streamlined to eliminate one-quarter of existing content
  • Authorizers may mistake length for rigor
  • The authorizer’s role is sometimes unclear
  • While there is much authorizer lip service for innovation, the application process doesn’t lend itself to fleshing out truly innovative school models

AEI correctly notes the importance of the authorizer’s role as gatekeeper for new schools and points out that authorizers should establish clear goals, hold schools accountable, review key aspects of school applications for developer capacity, and monitor compliance and finances. Authorizers shouldn’t see themselves as venture capitalists, assume the role of school management consultants, deem themselves curriculum experts, or feel entitled to include pet issues in applications.

All true, and all wise. Where it gets sticky—and where this report...

Last week, Fordham hosted Robert Putnam for a discussion of his new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, which argues that a growing opportunity gap is leaving many American children behind. Watch the replay of the event, or read the transcript of the event below.

Michael Petrilli:              

Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon. My name is Mike Petrilli. I am the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. For those of you that don’t know us, we are an educational policy think tank. We are based here in Washington, D.C. but we also do on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio which also features prominently in Dr. Putnam’s book. You can shout out for Ohio, that’s okay. Yes, and just as long as it’s not Ohio State, that’s another story. But Thomas B. Fordham was an industrialist way back in the day in Dayton, Ohio, so we have a mission to do on-the-ground school reform work in Ohio. We push for educational reform out of Columbus and we are...

On Tuesday, Georgetown University hosted President Obama, Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam, and American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks for a talk about poverty and opportunity. With typical brilliance, the three men discussed myriad issues that affect the lives of America’s most disadvantaged—offering thoughtful insights into all of them. From an education policy standpoint, however, President Obama’s call for greater investment in public schools was the most interesting.

Robert Putnam, in his new book Our Kids, argues that over the last thirty to forty years, disadvantaged youth have faced diminishing opportunities while their more affluent peers have enjoyed dramatically more. President Obama agreed, but also observed that this is nothing new. “This pattern,” he said, “is no different than what William Julius Wilson was talking about when he talked about the truly disadvantaged [thirty years ago].”

The president acknowledged that some of the challenges facing the middle class come from macroeconomic changes, such as technological innovation and globalization. But he also argued that some of it resulted from public policy choices we’ve made in recent decades. In...

In a previous review, my colleagues examined a National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) report that analyzed states’ charter policies regarding access to district-owned facilities. In a new report, NCSRC narrows its focus to charter school facilities in California. Golden State charters were asked to complete a survey about their facilities and to allow an on-site measurement; these results were then supplemented by data on school enrollment, student demographics, and funding. The results offer a sobering picture of charter facilities in the state. Charter school facilities are generally smaller than the size recommended by the California Department of Education; classrooms for elementary, middle, and high schools are, on average, between 82 and 89 percent of the state standard size (it is worth nothing that state size standards might not be appropriate for all schools in all situations). Charter facilities as a whole are 60 percent smaller than state site size recommendations, even after adjustments are made for enrollment differences. California charters also spend varying amounts of their per-pupil funding on facilities; charters that own their buildings pay an average of $895 per pupil; charters located in a school district facility pay an average of $285 per pupil; and...

Marianne Lombardo

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this commentary was published on EdReform Now’s blog on April 8. The post contrasted innocent misunderstandings (using Allstate’s elderly-woman-misunderstands-social-media esurance ad) to the more serious act of purposely leading people to misunderstandings. The post simply and succinctly clears the air about how school funding – especially for charter schools – actually works in Ohio.

When “policy experts” purposely mislead the public into misunderstandings about education and school funding, it isn’t a humorous misunderstanding. It’s appalling.

For example, charter school detractors promote the idea that charter schools exist to privatize education and make profits for greedy investors:

“[Mayor Emanuel] took money from these schools . . . and gave it to elite private schools founded by his big campaign contributors. I would stop privatizing our public schools.“

- Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Chicago Mayor election video

Actually, public charter schools are part of the public education system. They are approved and monitored by public entities. Nationally, nearly 90 percent are run by a non-profit organization (23% in Ohio). These non-profits are very much like other publicly-funded programs that serve children, such as Head Start centers.

Most egregious, however, is...

In Ohio and across the nation, charters have struggled to obtain adequate, appropriate space in which to operate. As competitors, districts have been reluctant to allow charters to operate in buildings that they own, whether through co-location in an open district school or taking residence in a shuttered school. But according to the latest report from the National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC), a few states and cities have been proactive in helping charters access district facilities. The report, using charter survey data across fourteen states from 2007 to 2014, reveals that charters in California and New York—New York City, in particular—were most likely to operate in district-owned space. In California, nearly half (45 percent) of charters operated in district facilities, while 31 percent of New York charters did so. In New York City, 62 percent of the city’s charters operated in a district facility, undoubtedly encouraged by the $1 rental fee that the district was permitted to charge charters (an innovation of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s). The study also reported some variation in the financial arrangements between districts and charters: Of the charters that operated in a district-owned facility, 46 percent of them reported paying no fee to...

Discussion of charter schools is everywhere in the Ohio news. Everyone has an angle, including a few unexpected ones:

Boarding schools are often associated with the rich and the privileged; as such, they are seen as an out-of-reach option for low-income families searching for high-quality education. But in a world of ever-increasing school choice, must boarding schools remain out-of-reach? Do tuition-free boarding schools that serve primarily academically struggling, low-income children exist?

The answer is yes, they do—but they’re extremely rare. A 2003 study from the University of Chicago interviewed policy experts, educators, child welfare and youth development professionals, and parents of children who attend boarding schools designed for students with social and economic disadvantages. The study concludes that “urban or community boarding schools represent a promising idea that deserves serious consideration.” Yet the authors are careful to point out that many people harbor concerns “about the meaning of out-of-home settings used primarily by low-income or minority children.” They cite America’s troubling legacy of using boarding schools for shameful reasons can lead to understandable suspicions about residential education models for low-income, high-need youth.

However, there are examples of places where the residential education model is already in place and working—and where families are thrilled with the results. In 2009, New York Times Magazine looked at the...

This new study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) examines the ESEA comparability requirement, which mandates that school districts provide “comparable” educational services in both high- and low-poverty schools as a condition of receiving Title I dollars. CAP’s concern is that, although this requirement is intended to level the playing field for schools, it actually allows districts to use teacher-to-student ratios or average teacher salaries as a proxy for comparable services, instead of using actual teacher salary expenditures. And because poor schools typically have newer teachers who tend to struggle their first few years and cost less to employ, these schools are getting both less qualified teachers and less money than more advantaged ones.

The analysts examine Office of Civil Rights district spending data for the 2011–12 school year from roughly ninety-five thousand public schools. Adjusting for cost-of-living differences across districts, they compare how districts fund schools that are eligible to receive federal Title I dollars with other schools in their grade span and find “vast disparities” in the allocation of state and local dollars.

Here are the three key findings: one, due to the “loophole” in federal law, more than 4.5 million low-income students...

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