School Finance

While the focus of Tuesday’s election was on the presidential race, many voters across the Buckeye State also gave a yea or nay for their school district’s levy proposal.  According to the Hannah Report, 192 district levies were on ballots this election day, and a little over half of them passed (55 percent). If your district asked for a renewal of a tax levy, it was more likely to pass (87 percent) compared to new levies, which passed at a 37 percent rate.

Despite these figures and the ever-tightening fiscal climate, Tuesday spelled victory for several districts asking for new levies. For example, Cleveland voters approved a $15 million levy. Cleveland Municipal will be able to reinstate regular school days and gym and music classes, which were previously cut. Akron City Schools also has cause for celebration with the support of its $7.9 million levy. To find out how your district’s levy did, see the Ohio School Boards Association’s webpage.

Lots of people are weighing in on the implications of Tuesday’s election results.

  • Eduwonk Rotherham has a good piece in Time magazine lamenting Tony Bennett’s loss (my thoughts on that here), celebrating the wins for charter schools, and noting the continued strength of teachers unions when they are tested.
  • Mike comes to many of the same conclusions.  Tom Luna’s losses get his attention, as do a number of results from the Midwest.
  • Stergios also highlights the charter wins and the fallout from Bennett’s undoing (particularly regarding Common Core) and adds accountability and ESEA reauthorization to the list of affected subjects.
  • Naturally, the prolific Rick Hess has a series of posts on the subject, declaring the night a split decision for reformers.  He emphasizes the union wins and the subtle split in the reform community between conservatives and progressives.  See here for his take on Bennett’s loss and its implications for Common Core.
  • The WSJ’s Stephanie Branchero also concludes that voters are divided.  Branchero discusses Luna’s losses, the charter win in WA, and CA’s decision to spend more on schools.
  • Politics K-12 is already looking ahead, surfacing the five big issues facing Secretary Duncan during the second term.

One final thought from yours truly: Lots of reformers, especially those in the ed-tech camp, continue to think that Common Core is just about the best thing produced in eons.  So there’s a good deal of cheerleading going on, and most reform practitioners...

The results are in and Ed Reform, our non-partisan candidate, had a mixed performance. Let’s see how eight key races and referenda turned out:

    Tony Bennett
    Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett's loss was an unexpected blow.
    Photo by Joe Portnoy.
  • Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid. There’s no sugar-coating it: This one hurts. Bad. As I wrote on Tuesday (and profanely explained to the Huffington Post), this was a referendum on the most aggressive reform agenda in the country. Despite being massively outspent, the unions managed to get one of their own elected to this critical post. We’ll have to wait for more data to determine the degree to which conservatives also punished Bennett for his support of the Common Core (perhaps inadvertently egged on by Arne Duncan’s tone-deaf cheerleading). But it’s no secret that some of them are gleeful. If they were the deciding factor, it will go down as one of the stupidest moves in the annals of education-policy history. Bennett will be fine (I suspect he’s already getting calls from Florida, Ohio, and other states looking for a hard-charging education leader). But a union-backed state superintendent is going to do her best to wreak havoc on the state’s new voucher program and much else. (Just ask choice supporters in Wisconsin, where state superintendent Tony
  • ...

The Fordham Institute sends out hearty congratulations to Mayor Frank Jackson and his staff, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, the city’s business community, district supporters, teachers, students, and the voters of Cleveland on the passage of the district’s levy—a key component of the Plan for Transforming Schools. It was a hard-fought campaign that was successful in the end due to the day-to-day and door-to-door diligence of its supporters.

As Fordham’s Ohio VP Terry Ryan wrote on this very blog back in February, this effort to make Cleveland one of the nation's school-reform leaders – with its sights fixed firmly on finding, funding, and nurturing what works in education for the sake of the students themselves—is a significant step forward for all Cleveland families. And on this morning of November 7, implementation is now at hand.

All involved with that implementation must be mindful of what was promised and what must be delivered:

  • Increasing the number of high-performing schools, both district and charter, while closing failing schools;
  • Maximizing enrollment in Cleveland’s existing high-performing district and public charter schools;
  • Investing in promising schools by giving their leaders additional resources, the freedom to build high-performing teams, and the ability to make financial and instructional decisions based on their students’ needs;
  • Seeking (and finding) flexibility in the hiring, retention, and remuneration of teachers; and
  • Sustaining both district and public charter transformation schools.

We applaud the work done to create and to pass the plan and look...

Want to know if school reform is winning in the court of public opinion? If the myriad efforts at ed-reform advocacy are paying off? Here are seven races and referenda to watch tonight, in order of importance:

Tony Bennett
Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett with the author.
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

1. Tony Bennett’s re-election

No one has pushed a more aggressive education-reform agenda than Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction (and Ed-Reform Idol) Tony Bennett and his fellow ed-reform activist Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. A big win will give a big boost to Hoosier-style reform.

2. The Washington State charter initiative

Seattle is the largest city in the country that doesn’t have any charter schools. This initiative would finally fix that. Charter supporters have failed at the polls before; will they prevail this time around?

3. Idaho’s Propositions 1 and 2

These two referenda would limit the scope of collective bargaining and mandate that student achievement be included in teacher evaluations. The unions are fighting these aggressively; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is paying to defend them.

4. Michigan’s Proposition 2

This union-backed measure would enshrine collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group is working to defeat it.

5. Georgia’s charter-school resolution

This would amend...

We all love teachers but do we all love ed reformers?

Mike and Kathleen wonder why education can’t stay out of the debates and pick the top edu-initiatives on the ballot. Amber describes the spectacular growth in non-teaching staff.

Amber's Research Minute

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools by Benjamin Scafidi (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012). - Download PDF

Schools are comprised of teachers, students, and principals…and nurses, speech therapists, paraprofessionals, and librarians…and administrative assistants, reading specialists, transportation coordinators, and other central-office staffers. This Friedman Foundation report (building off the work of others) analyzes the  ballooning of these “other” education jobs—individuals employed by school districts (and paid with taxpayer dollars) who do not directly instruct children. And the numbers are eye-opening: Between 1950 and 2009, the number of K-12 public school students increased by 96 percent. During that same period, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew by 386 percent. Of those personnel, the number of teachers increased by 252 percent, while the ranks of administrators and other staff grew by 702 percent—more than 7 times the increase in students. Though this trend has abated somewhat in recent years, these increases remain dramatic. From 1992 to 2009, for example, the bump in school FTEs was 2.3 times greater than that of students, with forty-eight states upping the number of nonteaching personnel at a faster rate than their increase in students. Even where student populations dropped over the past two decades, public school employment increased. Maine, for example, lost roughly 11 percent of its pupils, yet saw a 76 percent increase in the number of non-teaching personnel. Ohio schools saw a 2 percent increase in student population coupled with a 44 percent increase in non-teaching personnel. These numbers are jaw-dropping when they stand alone. Attach...

It’s all French to me

Rick and Mike pick apart an egregious example of Continental Achievement-Gap mania and take on differing proficiency goals based on student race and ethnicity. Amber asks if we’d be better off spending our edu-dollars in very different ways.

Amber's Research Minute

How Do Public Investments in Children Vary with Age? A Kids' Share Analysis of Expenditures in 2008 and 2011 by Age Group by The Urban Institute - Download PDF

Next month, voters will not be choosing between supporting and destroying schools at the ballot box, yet crafty politicians and interest groups are having a field day attempting to convince voters of this alternate reality. In Maryland, the main proponents of a gambling initiative are running misleading ads claiming that the ballot measure, Question 7, “will be a great benefit for children.” Question 7 asks, “Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education...?” Here’s the catch: Even if the purpose is to raise money for schools, it will not necessarily lead to an increase in school spending.

The group behind the ads—For Maryland Jobs and Schoolsis a front group for entertainment giant MGM, which hopes to build a casino right outside Washington, D.C. It is doubtful that its main concern is education funding for Maryland students and jobs for Maryland residents.

As always, the deeper you dig, the murkier the issue becomes. Question 7 mandates that the education “trust fund” receives an increase (estimated at roughly $55 million by 2019). However, there is no guaranteed increase in overall school funding. The extra revenue in the trust fund could be used to cover cuts in the general fund dollars that otherwise would have gone to education. As the Baltimore Sun reported, “nothing in the law says that the...

The baseball playoffs started this week in earnest, with the Cincinnati Reds carrying Buckeye State’s hopes for a pennant (next year for sure, Cleveland fans). This year’s playoffs includes teams with varying levels of economic resources—from the high-spending New York Yankees, to the low-spending, upstart Oakland A’s. Yet, all these teams have proven themselves to be successful over the long regular season.

Schools districts, like baseball teams, are similarly endowed with varying amounts of economic resources. And like baseball teams, some districts get a lot for their money—the Oakland A’s of school districts—while others get little for their money. “Efficiency” generally describes whether an organization gets a lot or a little out of the resources they put in.

To look at which schools are more efficient, we use Ohio public school districts’ expenditure per equivalent (EPE) and performance index score (PI). EPE is the district’s input (the money it expends) and PI is the output (what it gets for the money: namely, student achievement). The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has developed both of these measures.

  • EPE is a weighted per-pupil expenditure that accounts for the higher cost of educating poor, English language learning, and special needs students. ODE reports official EPE data for traditional districts (there is not official, publically-accessible data for charter schools, so they are excluded from this analysis). 
  • PI is a weighted proficiency average, with greater weight given to students who score at higher levels of achievement on the state’s standardized exams.

For the sake...