School Finance

Last week, in his State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put the weight of his office behind an education tax credit—a bill that would provide dollar-for-dollar tax relief to both individuals and businesses who donated money to either public schools or to scholarship funds that aid needy students in private and parochial schools.

This is an idea I have a personal stake in. As the superintendent of six Catholic schools in New York City, I know how financially challenging it is to keep these schools open and what a difference the donations from this tax credit would make in supporting the important work of our teachers and students.

Of course, for some people the idea of a public policy that provides any tax relief for supporters of religious schools is a third rail. They conjure up a vision of religion being forced on children or of the American ideal of “education for democracy” withering away.

But that not only represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the roots of American public education, it also ignores the reality of the debate. Rather...

In spring 2013, Ohio policymakers approved a two-year, $250 million investment aimed at spurring innovation in public schools. Known as the Straight A Fund, this competitive grant program has since catalyzed sixty new projects throughout the state, many of which are joint ventures between schools, vocational centers, ESCs, colleges, and businesses.

As a member of the grant advisory committee, I gained a firsthand view of the exciting projects happening around the state, everything from “fab labs” (a computer center outfitted with computer-aided drawing software and 3-D printers), outdoor greenhouses, and robotics workshops. Those who are interested in these projects should plan to attend this conference in Columbus on February 5.

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers should continue to invest in innovation by reauthorizing the Straight A Fund. At the same time, the legislature should also consider a few alterations that could give an even stronger boost to the most innovative project ideas. The suggestions are as follows:

Remove the cost-reduction mandate.

A small provision in the Straight A legislation required grantees to show “verifiable, credible, and permanent” cost reductions that would result from the grant. As a result, applications were evaluated significantly on...

Financing public education has historically been the joint responsibility of state and local governments. But while traditional districts have long had access to both state and local sources of revenue, nearly all Ohio charter schools tap state funds alone. The reason: Unlike districts, charters do not have the independent authority to levy taxes on local property. Meanwhile, districts have been loath to share local funding with charters. The only exceptions in Ohio are eleven Cleveland charters, which together received $2.2 million in local revenue for 2012–13 as part of a revenue-sharing plan with the district. As a result, Ohio charters operate on less overall taxpayer support than districts.

Despite the stark fact that charters rarely receive local funds, a few groups are mounting attempts to claim that somehow charters receive proceeds from local taxes. Their claims are false. First, state data contradict any proposition that local funding directly flows to charters. Second, while some charters may receive more state aid than districts, on a per-student basis, this difference in state funding is simply a product of the state funding formula. It is not a result of local funds indirectly going to charters, as some have suggested.

The facts are...

The nineteenth edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report is out, and while Ohio outperforms over thirty states, the results show that there is still much work to be done. The 2015 report, which has a new evaluation system that focuses on outcomes rather than policies and processes, indicates that the nation as a whole declined from a C+ in 2013 (when grades were last given) to a C in 2015. Ohio also declined, moving from a B- in 2013 to a C in 2015. The report rates states’ quality along three key dimensions: Chances for Success, which takes into account indicators like family characteristics, high school graduation rates, and workforce opportunities; K–12 Achievement, which rates academic performance, performance changes over time, and poverty-based gaps (as measured by the NAEP assessments); and school finance, which includes measures of  funding equity across schools. Ohio’s overall score, which is the average of the three categories, was 75.8 out of 100 possible points, which earned a ranking of eighteenth in the nation. In the Chances for Success category, Ohio earned a B-. Most indicators in this category show that Ohio is close to the national average, including preschool enrollment (46.5 percent of...

It was the best of times…

…for the Republican Party. Election Day 2014 was a rout, with the GOP winning full control of Congress and its largest House majority since World War II. Republican governors were re-elected in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, and Maine. Democrat Pat Quinn was booted out of office in President Obama’s home state of Illinois. Republican now control two-thirds of state legislatures too. The GOP groundswell “will be good for education reform, especially reforms of the school-choice variety,” predicted Fordham’s Mike Petrilli

It was the worst of times…

...for teachers’ unions. “It’s open season on teacher employment protection laws in U.S. state courts,” noted Fordham’s Brandon Wright on the heels of June’s Vergara v. California verdict holding California’s tenure laws unconstitutional. And the hits just kept on coming. In October, the commission that runs the financially troubled Philadelphia public school system unilaterally canceled the union’s contract and ruled teachers must contribute to their health insurance to free up money for classrooms. (A good decision to avoid the big squeeze.) Election Day made the annus horribilis complete. The $60 million...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the fourth entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog. Earlier entries can be found herehere, and here.

Schneider: We ended our last post with a question about school funding. You seem to be more concerned with the issue of accountability than I am. And I appear to be more concerned with equal funding.

So it seems like maybe we have a chicken and egg issue here.

I don't think you can begin to talk accountability seriously until you have a relatively equal playing field. You seem hesitant to channel funds to organizations that can't meet accountability targets. Can you talk through your position for me?

Smarick: My position on funding in a nutshell is: I want every school in America to have the money necessary so every child can succeed, but we need to appreciate that more funding won't necessarily generate better results. 

So let's first put some basic facts on the table.

The U.S. now spends close to $700 billion annually on K–12...

Joshua Dunn

On October 1, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued perhaps its most extraordinary “Dear Colleague” letter (DCL). Given the recent competition, this is remarkable. In its letter, OCR announced that any racially identifiable disparities in educational resources could trigger an investigation by the agency. Two weeks ago it followed through on that threat. 

The letter stated that OCR was writing to “call your attention to disparities that persist in access to educational resources, and to help you address those disparities and comply with the legal obligation to provide students with equal access to these resources without regard to race, color, or national origin.” This offer of assistance is, of course, OCR doublespeak for letting states’ school districts know that federal harassment was about to commence. The New York State Department of Education and New York State Board of Regents would be the first to benefit from OCR’s cheerful offer to help. Last December, the Schenectady and Middletown School Districts had filed a complaint with OCR alleging that the state was inequitably distributing $5.5 billion in state Foundation Aid. This pot of money was created...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above....

Public school districts in the United States face a tough reality: Student needs are mounting and accountability demands are on the rise, but resources remain limited or are on the decline. In recent years, there has been great energy around how to do more with less through technology-supported instruction, class-size management, new staffing patterns, school closures, etc. But in the end, many districts have resorted to doing less with less, such as offering fewer electives, reducing administrator and support-staff positions, delaying maintenance, and postponing textbook adoptions.

But there is good news. There are practical, real-world opportunities for districts to realign resources and free up funds to support their strategic priorities. It is possible to do more with less, if you are spending money wisely. Many district leaders might defensively respond that they in fact have a multitude of ideas, but the budgeting process and political pushback make many options virtually impossible. The challenge is to find cases in which the political pushback is manageable and both the impact on student achievement and the financial benefit are significant. Fortunately, recent research shows that such scenarios do exist.

We at the District Management Council detailed the...

The facility arrangements of one Ohio charter school recently came under fire in a Columbus Dispatch exposé. An investigation discovered that roughly half of the school’s budget was dedicated to rental payments, potentially shortchanging teaching and learning. But this episode isn’t an isolated case; many Buckeye charters have struggled to secure adequate facilities. How can Ohio policymakers and school leaders better ensure that charters have the facilities they need at a reasonable cost? First, they should consult this new report from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which contains a wealth of information on charter-school facilities funding from both private and public sources. The report includes descriptions of the key nonprofits in charter-facilities financing, including the Charter School Growth Fund, Capital Impact Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, and LISC. These nonprofits—twenty in all—have provided an impressive $2 billion in direct financing for charter facilities (e.g., loans and grants). When it comes to state support for charter facilities, Ohio has been woefully stingy. The state provided, for the first time in 2013, per-pupil funding to support the facility costs of brick-and-mortar charters (up to $100 per-pupil). But other jurisdictions are far less tightfisted. For example,...

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