School Finance

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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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1984 in 2012?

Aaron Churchill drops by to explain Ohio’s attendance foibles and debate the merits of another kind of student tracking. Amber asks if super sub-groups are all that super.

Amber's Research Minute

Shining a Light or Fumbling in the Dark? The Effects of NCLB’s Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Student Achievement by Douglas Lee Lauen & S. Michael Gaddis for EEPA

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) represent the surest way to bring vouchers into the twenty-first century (and help immunize choice programs from Blaine Amendment-based court challenges), argues author Matt Ladner in this informative Friedman Foundation paper. First piloted in Arizona (at a scale much smaller than what Ladner proposes here), ESAs give parents the option to withdraw their children from public or charter schools, deposit the majority of their allotted public dollars into a designated account, and apply that money directly to any number of other academic options—including private schools, online courses, early college options, or even a future college education. With such a funding structure, the study contends, parents will be free to choose K-12 options based on quality and cost, thereby spurring innovation, improving quality, and breaking America of its “education stagnation” and gross achievement gaps. Ladner also explains the legislative safeguards that must be in place for an ESA system to be effective (HSAs and food stamps offer helpful guidance). There is much merit for such a proposed finance system—especially as digital and blended learning models take form. But Ladner’s paper has one overt flaw: Though he trumpets increased equity as a major rationale for ESAs, these calls sound hollow until the paper’s final notes, when the author clarifies that policymakers “can and should vary aid according to individual circumstances and special needs”—that is, that states ought to employ weighted-student funding. The absence...

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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).  
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