School Finance

Dr. Paul Hill evaluates Governor John Kasich's education budget proposal.

Charity Hallman

Teachers must be given their choice of pension plans

The governor's school finance plan moves Ohio in the right direction

GadflyIn a futile effort to counter the influence of test-preparation companies, New York City’s education department changed part of the test it administers to four-year-olds to determine whether or not they are gifted and talented. For parents who cannot afford to send their child to one of the city’s myriad private schools, a coveted and scarce seat in a public school gifted program is the best start they could give to their children. While many lament the unjust advantage that students with access to test-prep programs obtain, the true tragedy is the dearth of suitable options for all of the gifted children. For more, listen to this week’s Gadfly Show.

Eliciting a keen sense of deja vu, this year's AP Report to the Nation—College Board's tracking of AP course-taking patterns and exam pass rates—offers the same three takeaways as last year's report: Participation rates in the AP are fast on the rise (up 2 percentage points since last year and 14 since last decade). So are AP exam passing rates: up 1.5 percentage points since 2011 and 7 points since 2002. Still, minority involvement flounders, with less than a third of "qualified" Latinos and African American (as decided by PSAT scores) enrolling in an AP course. Expect further unpacking of what these numbers may mean for Common Core implementation, college-remediation courses, and more next week.

The congressionally mandated Equity and Excellence Commission issued a call for both equity and excellence in American public schools (back to the future?). On Tuesday, the group presented its “blueprint” for achieving such an end: early-childhood education should be expanded, all kids should have a high-quality teacher, and school funding should be...

In an era of budgetary belt tightening, state and local policy makers are finally awakening to the impact of teacher pension costs on their bottom lines. Recent reports demonstrate that such pension programs across the United States are burdened by almost $390 billion in unfunded liabilities. Yet, most states and municipalities have been taking the road of least resistance, tinkering around the edges rather than tackling systemic (but painful) pension reform.

Is the solution to the pension crisis to offer teachers the option of a 401(k)-style plan (also known as a "defined contribution" or DC plan) instead of a traditional pension plan? Would this alternative appeal to teachers?

When Teachers Choose Pension Plans: The Florida Story sets out to answer these questions.

We laughed. We cried. We wondered how in the world his proposals wouldn’t increase our deficit “by a single dime.” President Obama’s fifth State of the Union delivered an aggressive call to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities to all four-year-olds (the overall cost of which remains decidedly murky), to create a Race to the Top offshoot focused on pressing high schools to better prepare students for high-tech jobs, and to hold colleges accountable for keeping tuitions affordable—a classic liberal wish list to be funded via voodoo economics and shell-game fiscal policies.

Maryland told nine of its counties—including smug Montgomery, whose teacher-evaluation proposal the state rejected earlier this month—that the Maryland School Assessment must comprise at least 20 percent of their teacher- and principal-evaluation models. “My team and I are fully prepared to make visits to your district to provide clarification and to assist you in reaching approved status,” Dave Volrath of the state education department offered helpfully to Montgomery County. Yeah. We’re sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding.

Since 2007, hundreds of California school districts and community colleges have used $7 billion in “capital-appreciation” bonds to finance school-construction projects. The catch? Capital-appreciation bonds can balloon to more than ten times the amount borrowed over as much as forty years. For scale, compare this to a typical thirty-year home mortgage, which will wind up costing two to three times the amount borrowed. We are speechless. We thought pensions were the most vivid example of states and districts kicking the education-financing challenge down the interstate. We were wrong. And California is not alone.

Michigan, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia—three states that recently revamped their teacher-evaluation systems and one that’s running a pilot program—continue to churn out suspiciously high percentages of “effective-or-better” teachers. Stakeholders...

Opinion piece about Kasich's Straight A Innovation Fund

Plenty of folks in the education business seek the limelight. Not all deserve it—at least, not for doing good. But some individuals and groups that do great good for kids, teachers, and schools prefer to do so quietly, even invisibly. And two such entities are merging as Gene Wilhoit—previously of the Council of Chief State School Officers and, arguably, the most important force behind the Common Core standards—joins Sue Pimentel and Jason Zimba’s crackerjack (but small and quiet) team at Student Achievement Partners, which might be the most valuable enterprise in the land when it comes to defending, improving, explaining, and implementing the Common Core. Neither Wilhoit nor SAP is a glutton for publicity—but the work they’ve done, and continue to do, deserves respect and gratitude.

Earlier this week, Ohio Governor John Kasich unveiled his education reform plan. Among its many features are an expansion of private school vouchers and Ohio’s first-ever charter school facility funding. Perhaps most promising, the governor proposed a $300-million Innovation Fund to kick-start projects aimed at reshaping how schools deploy technology and human resources. In a town-hall meeting, Fordham's Terry Ryan told the governor and a rapt audience that the Innovation Fund is "very exciting...There's a lot of untapped energy out in the field that's waiting to take charge and take control of the opportunities."

As school districts begin to come to terms with the fact that they will not be able to maintain their current spending levels, Stanford scholar Eric A. Hanushek warns that budgetary belt-tightening will not inevitably lead to efficient choices. He writes, “If school districts had a line item in their budgets for ‘waste, fraud, and abuse,’ we could just reduce that to deal with budget pressures. Unfortunately, we do not find such itemized inefficiency.” Hanushek argues, and...

Andy Smarick's pick of recent education news

A review of high-performer turnover in organizations, impact to firms and how schools can learn from these organizations

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