School Finance

Bayou blues

Checker and Education Sector’s John Chubb discuss expanding the school day, dismal graduation rates, and Louisiana confusion. Amber depresses us with a report on record-high unemployment among young people.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity by The Annie E. Casey Foundation - Download PDF

This new study by Brookings’s Matt Chingos makes its way through the labyrinth of state budgets for standardized assessments, and it is the first time we’ve ever seen anything coherent and reasonably comprehensive on this part of the K-12 spending universe. Chingos focuses on the costs of contracts between states and test-making vendors, which comprise about 85 percent of total assessment costs. Across the forty-five states for which data were available, $669 million was spent annually on standardized assessments for grades three through nine. That’s about $27 per pupil on average, but this figure varies widely: A child in D.C. costs $114 to assess; in New York, that same child would cost just $7. Some of the variance is due to state size. He estimates that states with about 100,000 students in grades three-nine (e.g., Maine or Hawaii) spend about $13 more per pupil on assessment than states in the million-pupil range, such as Illinois. From these data, Chingos concludes that all states would enjoy some savings by joining or creating assessment consortia—whether PARCC or SBAC for ELA and math or another smaller grouping for other subjects. Much speculation surrounds the in-development Common Core assessments; the new design is likely to cost more, though it’s difficult to estimate how much at present. (We’ve also weighed in on this topic.) Chingos shows that new (and hopefully better) assessments could be rolled out at about the same cost to states, provided they pool resources and eke out quantity gains.



Eric Hanushek, Marguerite Roza, and Frederick Hess provided Ohio’s lawmakers today with ideas for helping the Buckeye State retool its school funding system. StudentsFirst, an education reform organization, recruited these leading experts to Ohio and arranged meetings with both the House and the Senate finance committees. Ohio’s Governor John Kasich has promised to address school funding in his 2013 biennial budget proposal.

Hanushek, who testified in person (Hess and Roza joined by videoconference), led off the conversation with these lawmakers. He enumerated five principles of a strong school finance and accountability system. (These are described in more detail in his publication, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools.) These principles include:

1. Establishing a set of standards, assessments, and accountability for schools that are strong and transparent.

2. Empowering local districts to allocate funds in ways that meet the needs of their students. State lawmakers shouldn’t dictate, Hanushek insisted, how districts spend their funds.

3. Rewarding successful schools and not directing additional funds to failing schools. State lawmakers need to resist the impulse to distribute more funds to failing districts, as it may incentivize failure.

4. Providing funding for innovation and evaluation. The state should fund innovative educational practices and programs, but any innovative program funded by the state should also be rigorously evaluated. Importantly, Hanushek emphasized that evaluation of innovative programs needs to be done at the inception of the program, not after the program has been implemented.


The Louisiana Constitution allows lawmakers more freedom to design public education than its school boards and teacher unions would have us believe. So it’s no surprise that what is “public” today includes a largely charter school system in New Orleans, four publicly funded private-school-choice programs, a recovery school district, and the emergence of online charter schools.

The consolation for the families who opted for school choice is that this was always going to be decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court

That’s why it was frustrating to see a state judge declare late Friday that Louisiana’s newest and largest voucher program is illegal because it diverts “vital public dollars” to private schools. According to Judge Timothy Kelley, the state was wrong to fund its new voucher program by the same revenue stream that provides a “minimum foundation” to its public elementary and secondary schools.

That was the same argument put forward by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association when they sued to abolish the voucher program, which presently serves nearly 5,000 children in 113 private schools.

But what is the difference between privately operated charter schools and private schools accepting voucher-bearing students if each are held to account to parents and taxpayers?

Students receiving the Louisiana voucher have to take the same standardized tests as those administered at public schools, and the schools they attend can be ejected from the program if they consistently show poor performance—just like charter schools. But Judge Kelley clumsily asserts...

We’re choosy

Mike and Adam celebrate school-choice victories in New Jersey and Race to the Top and worry about the battles ahead. Amber ponders state-mandated special-ed enrollment targets.

Amber's Research Minute

New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis by CRPE - Download PDF

Generous pensions—one of the main “perks” of public-sector employment—come at a steep price: After years of can-kicking, state pensions face funding shortfalls that total in the trillions. Yet many are hesitant to restructure them. Among the reasons cited is the backlash expected from teachers facing a loss or diminution of their long-established defined-benefit (DB) pension plans. This new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues suggests, however, that teachers may be more receptive to new pension structures than previously thought (echoing findings from a New York poll conducted earlier this year). Researchers analyzed teachers’ pension preferences using data from Washington State over two time periods during which educators could opt for a DB or hybrid plan (which combines a DB and an employee-funded defined-contribution [DC] plan). During both periods, the majority of teachers—both new and experienced—opted for the hybrid plan. (Only teachers over age fifty-five preferred the traditional DB option.) The researchers then examined the association between choice of pension program and teacher effectiveness, measured by value-added. Compellingly, teachers choosing the hybrid plan were 2 to 3 percent of a standard deviation more effective than those opting for the DB plan. This is equivalent to the difference between a teacher with one or two years of experience and a novice—and hints that the composition of the teacher workforce (and its overall quality) is likely to be influenced by pension structures. The political will to revamp teacher-pension plans remains buried. This study provides a shovel with which we may start...

The new teachers contract in Newark has caused widespread celebration. It has earned praise from New Jersey’s governor and education commissioner, Newark’s mayor and superintendent, local and national labor leaders and many others. There seems to be a consensus that a new day has dawned for public education in this troubled city.

If state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.

The history of urban school improvement efforts, however, suggests that we might temper our enthusiasm. The side of the road is littered with much-ballyhooed but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fix failing inner-city schools.

Yet if state leaders are willing to seize the opportunity, this may be a turning point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.

The new contract is an enormous improvement over its predecessors. It reforms compensation by prioritizing effectiveness instead of seniority. It speeds the implementation of improved evaluations and enables change in the lowest-performing schools. It allows for greater school-level decision-making and removes bureaucratic barriers to reform.

The district will now be better positioned to attract and retain the best educators. District leaders will have the flexibility to make decisions that meet kids’ needs. New Jersey residents will have greater confidence that state, local and philanthropic funding will be spent in the right ways.

Accordingly, the agreement has spawned a remarkable degree of strange-bedfellow harmony, bringing together management and labor, left and right. Local union president Joseph Del...

When I get a call from a reporter on a Friday, it typically means that a government agency is trying to dump bad news.  When I get a call from a reporter on the Friday before Thanksgiving week, I know that a government agency is trying to dump really bad news.

The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

And so it is with the U.S. Department of Education’s quiet release of results from the first year of the massive School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. (See Alyson Klein’s Ed Week coverage.)

The headline is simple: The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

Almost three years ago, in an article for Education Next called “The Turnaround Fallacy”, I detailed how and why previous turnaround efforts failed so consistently and predicted that future efforts would amount to the same. Chapter 4 of my new book, The Urban School System of the Future, extends that argument with even more evidence.

It’s not just me. Tom Loveless’s 2009 Brown Center Report showed the dramatic failure of turnaround efforts over 20 years, and David Stuit’s remarkable and devastating 2010 study powerfully reinforced these findings.

Now the Department, doing its job, is trying to paint the new data as a good-news story. But that clearly...

After weeks of Sandy-induced delay and reports of discontent among union membership, Newark teachers approved a “groundbreaking” new contract Wednesday,1,767 to 1,088. The new deal includes bonuses for high performance, an important first step for performance-related teacher pay in a state that has historically been a bastion of union strength and intransigence. Its value from a reform perspective, however, is mostly symbolic: Heavily subsidized by private donors (see Zuckerberg, Mark) despite Newark’s already-breathtaking per-pupil spending, the agreement would offer yearly awards of up to $5,000 to educators rated “highly effective”—a designation that would factor in fellow teachers’ evaluations. A traditional compensation option would also be available to teachers who prefer the status quo: hardly a transformative or replicable model.

The new Newark contract is hardly a transformative or replicable model.

Even still, approval was far from certain: Despite the strong support of media-darling Mayor Cory Booker and the blessing of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, many rank-and-file union members expressed strong reservations about the deal—one caucus within the union even warned that “it means indentured servitude for education workers.”

The union membership was right to take the deal. As Weingarten said, it is “a win for students, a win for teachers and a win for Newark.” National and local AFT chiefs deserve plenty of credit for making it happen: Reformers often gloss how challenging it must be for open-minded union leaders to persuade teachers to overcome decades of dogmatic resistance to the reform agenda. Hot on the heels of ...

Charter schools in at least six cities and counties will benefit from local bonds and levies that voters approved on Election Day. Collectively, that means more than $500 million[1] of local tax dollars over the next several years for charter-school facility or operating costs in Cleveland; San Diego; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Metropolitan Denver (including school districts in Denver proper, Aurora, and Jefferson County). Why the sudden generosity in places that (with the exception of Denver) historically have barely tolerated charters, if that? Some charter leaders say school systems might have realized that it’s become harder to ask parents to pay higher taxes only for district schools when so many more of them are choosing charter schools for their children. Indeed, voters in these regions have joined a handful of other cities that, over the past few years, have set aside local dollars for charters by ballot initiative, when most districts and state legislatures still refuse to do so. Of course, voters might have never seen these ballot questions had it not been for legislators (like those in Colorado) who rewrote laws a few years ago, forcing districts to “invite” charters to discuss the needs of all public schools before requesting bonds or levies. But whatever the reason, the response from voters is encouraging: A whopping $350 million share of a $2.8 billion bond in San Diego will aid charter-school facility needs over the next several years; charters in and around Denver may see $150...