School Finance

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...

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”…...

A Crash Course in Teacher Pensions

A Crash Course in Teacher Pensions

Dara Zeehandelaar, author of The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School District Budgets, explains teachers pensions and the difference between defined benefits and defined contribution plans that states offer teachers.

There’s no shortage of bad news in education these days, nor any dearth of stasis, but at least education reform is a lively, forward-looking enterprise that gets positive juices flowing in many people and that is leading to promising changes across many parts of the K–12 system. We are focused on making things better—via stronger standards (Common Core), greater parental choice (vouchers, charters, and more), more effective teachers (upgrading preparation programs, devising new evaluation regimens) and lots else.

The big squeeze

When it comes to pension reform in the education realm, however, it’s hard to stay positive. Here, we’re saddled with a bona fide fiscal calamity (up to a trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities by some counts) and no consensus about how to rectify the situation. No matter how one slices and dices this problem, somebody ends up paying in ways they won’t like and perhaps shouldn’t have to bear. All we can say is that some options are less bad than others.

Today’s new Fordham study examines how three cities (and their states) are apportioning the misery—or failing to do so. This analysis pulls no cheery rabbits out of a dark hat, but it definitely illustrates the nature and scale of the pension-funding problem and describes a couple of painful yet, in their ways, promising solutions (or partial solutions) to it. As you will...

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)....

Teachers and other employees of the School District of Philadelphia receive their retirement benefits from the Pennsylvania state retirement plan for schools, which includes both a defined-benefit pension plan and a modest retiree health benefit. The cost of the former is expected to rise quite substantially and, as this technical analysis will show, presents a daunting burden for the district in the near future.

What will the burden of retirement benefits actually be in the future? What impact will it have on the School District of Philadelphia’s budget? How much effect could this have on the classroom?

In Paying the Pension Price in Philadelphia, authors Robert Costrell and Larry Maloney analyze and project the future retirement obligations in Philadelphia and illumine the nature and scale of the pension-funding problem.

 

 

When it comes to pension reform in the education realm, it’s hard to stay positive. Here, we’re saddled with a bona fide fiscal calamity (up to a trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities by some counts), and no consensus about how to rectify the situation. No matter how one slices and dices this problem, somebody ends up paying in ways they won’t like and perhaps shouldn’t have to bear. All we can say is that some options are less bad than others.

In The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School-District Budgets, we analyze and project how big an impact the pension and retiree health care obligations will have on the budgets of three school districts: Milwaukee Public Schools, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and the School District of Philadelphia.

The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School-District Budgets is a summary report by Dara Zeehandelaar and Amber M. Winkler, based on three technical analyses conducted by Robert Costrell and Larry Maloney to be released by the end of Summer 2013.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation last week that places a one-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools outside Chicago and directs a state commission to study the effects and costs of virtual charters. These actions were clearly responses to suburban districts’ angst over the growing presence of K12 Inc. Relatedly, we’re sure that local bookstores favor blocking Amazon.com so that we might “better evaluate and understand” its impact. Is that next up?

Now in its fifth year, Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland—Ohio’s only charter school exclusively serving gifted children—is a haven for over 300 students, drawing K–8 youngsters from forty school districts in and beyond the Cleveland metro area. It's also the subject of a profile by award-winning journalist Ellen Belcher. To read more, visit the Ohio Gadfly Daily.

And now, from Nevada, a riddle about poor school-funding policy: What do you get when you add the third-largest fraction of English-language learner (ELL) students in the nation (a full fifth of Nevada’s 2010–11 student population) to a school-funding formula that doesn’t allot districts any extra state cash to educate said youngsters? Answer: Only 29 percent of the state’s ELL students in the graduating class of 2010–11 made it across the stage with their cohort. Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of Nevada, has proposed $50 million over two years to go towards ELL programs; the state’s Senate majority leader has countered with $140 million. While money alone won’t solve Nevada’s achievement woes, extra...

Joshua Dunn
The Lobato school-finance case
The Colorado Supreme Court made a wise decision in the long-running Lobato school-finance case.
Photo by SalFalko

A wave of good sense swept through the Colorado Supreme Court earlier this week, which finally made a decision in the long-running Lobato school-finance case. Back in 2009, the court split 4–3 ruling that school funding was a justiciable issue, which paved the way for a bizarre 2011 trial-court decision holding that the state was underfunding education by billions of dollars each year—an opinion that ignored those inconvenient parts of the Colorado Constitution that limit the ability of the legislature to raise taxes. Complying with the trial-court ruling would have required the legislature to violate the constitution. But what are constitutional limits when we have strained claims of underfunding based on dubious costing-out studies?

In Tuesday’s 4–2 decision, the court wisely declined the plaintiffs’ invitation to launch a constitutional crisis. Holding that the state’s school-finance system was rationally related to the constitution’s requirement to provide “a thorough and uniform” system of public schools, the majority rejected the trial court’s decision in its entirety.

Even though the plaintiffs lost, it's unclear what the litigation’s long-term political effects will be. Three weeks ago, Colorado’s legislature passed a school-finance bill that will increase funding and—allegedly—accountability. Promoted...

Education’s Fiscal Cliff, Real or Perceived?In our 2005 report, Charter School Funding: Inequity’s Next Frontier, we wrote, “U.S. charter schools are being starved of needed funds in almost every community and state.” We backed that statement with funding data from seventeen states and twenty-seven districts. A 2010 report, tracking 2006–07 data, agreed. In the years since, some jurisdictions have moved to provide more equal funding levels to district and charter schools, yet large disparities remain. This paper—which will be published in the Journal of School Choice in September—examines the extent of those inequalities. Larry Maloney and colleagues tallied local, state, federal, and non-public revenue from 2007 to 2011 in Denver, Newark, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee. The upshot: On average in 2011, charters received $4,000 less per pupil, per year, across all five studied locales, with gaps ranging from $2,700 in Denver to nearly $13,000 in D.C.—though jurisdictions with the largest spending gaps (Newark and D.C., specifically) actually narrowed the gap between district and charter funding during the study period while those that started out closer to equal funding widened the gap. The authors also noted that charter schools—which receive a higher percentage of their operating budget from nonpublic revenue, such as foundation grants—were hit harder by the economic recession than their district counterparts: While states seemed to find funds (sometimes federal bailout dollars)...

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