School Finance

Ask
almost any leader of a growing urban charter school about their biggest
worries, and real estate is likely to be at the top of the list. City-dwelling
young parents want schools that are convenient to their homes and—increasingly—public
transit. Government has (appropriately) high expectations of school buildings
but provides little to no money for charter school facilities in most
jurisdictions. Educators and school leaders want all of the above to provide a
fantastic experience for their students—without breaking the bank. This is not
something the real estate market can provide in most cities. 

Newark skyline II
Cities like Newark, New Jersey are experimenting with creative uses of space to improve education options.
Photo by William F. Yurasko.

To
make the problem even more difficult, city centers are redeveloping, with
entire neighborhoods gentrifying, building mixed-use housing and innovative
commercial spaces. Young professionals who a generation ago might have fled for
the ‘burbs as they settled...

Once upon a time, corporate IT departments lived by the
slogan "no one ever got fired for buying IBM." Big Blue's products
were a safe bet in a rapidly evolving industry. The over-reliance of the
Fortune 500 on that safe bet proved to be a
problem for those companies
, which missed out on innovations adopted by
more nimble rivals, and for IBM itself, which stagnated in the absence of
pressure from customers to push the envelope. District schools suffer from the
same "buy IBM" problem, with state policies and district budget
decisions making it difficult for principals and teachers to adopt promising
new options for delivering instruction.

An EdWeek piece today documents the struggle
ed-tech startups wage...

Guest
blogger Layla Bonnot is a research intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Is the number of free and reduced-price lunch
participants an accurate proxy for the number of poor kids in America’s schools? New Jersey’s acting education
commissioner, Chris Cerf, isn’t so sure. A recent article in The Star-Ledger highlights Cerf’s two concerns: first, that the
self-reported basis of Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP) participation
makes the count prone to errors and—potentially—fraud, and second, that this
number alone might not be a reliable proxy for the number of students living in
poverty.

20111019-FNS-RBN-1767
Mr. Cerf, I wouldn’t throw out school lunches quite yet—maybe just add a few other ingredients into the mix.
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The issue of fraud in the lunch room pops up every couple of years. Detailed audits
have shown that some students who should receive benefits do not, some parents or
schools make honest mistakes...

The Pioneer Institute is no friend of the
Common Core—which needs to be remembered when reading its latest missive.
Released last week, this report claims that it will cost the nation $15.8
billion to implement the new standards over a seven-year period, with the lion’s
share of those costs incurred during the first year. (Worse, the authors further
remind readers that this is, at best, a “midrange” estimate.) The Institute projects
a $10 million-plus invoice per school
for professional development, technology, and textbooks and instructional
materials in the first year alone—a number that strikes us as radically
inflated, to put it kindly. To be sure, implementing the Common Core well will bring
costs: Aligning materials, instruction, and assessments with new standards
cannot be done on the cheap if it’s going to be done well. But Pioneer’s
estimates are misleading. Not every dollar spent on CCSS will be “new money.” (It’s
not as if we’re spending zip on professional development, textbooks, and the
rest currently.) Nor do states need to follow the tired blueprint we’ve...

How much does an "adequate" K-12 education cost?
What about a "reasonable" education? Courts weigh in on these
questions regularly; last year alone saw a New
Jersey ruling
demanding half a billion more in state support for the
so-called Abbott districts, as well as a Colorado
case
that questioned voters' judgment about what constituted appropriate
support of a "thorough and uniform" school system. This year brings
an interesting new development to the table: New Hampshire voters may tell
the state Supreme Court to butt out entirely
.

There's a lot to be said for the Granite State's
typically libertarian approach.

There's a lot to be said for the Granite State's
typically libertarian approach. As the Hoover Institution's Rick Hanushek said
to Ed Week after the Colorado ruling, the
courts are not a good place to adjudicate the ongoing academic research on the
role of school spending in driving achievement. In particular, the record of New Jersey's Abbott
districts, the recipients of billions of dollars in additional court-mandated
state support since the mid-1980s, is abysmal.

This highlights one of the most fundamental...

We are
obligated to respect the office of President of the United States but nobody needs to
agree with what the occupant of that office says. And Barack Obama could not
have been more wrong in his mid-day
remarks
yesterday to the nation's governors on the subject of school
teachers.

Barack Obama
The President could not have been more wrong in his remarks yesterday to the nation's governors on the subject of school teachers.
Photo by jamesomalley.

In perhaps his
most vivid example yet of election-year pandering to the teacher unions that
comprise a non-trivial part of the Democratic Party's "base," he
rattled on at considerable length about the need to "get more teachers
into our classrooms."

MORE teachers.
Not better teachers. Not teachers that add greater value to their students and
make their schools more effective. Not teachers who know their subject matter.
Not more pay and greater professional opportunities for outstanding teachers.
...

Chris Cerf
Chris Cerf & Co. deserve praise for trying something new in a touchy, costly program area.

New Jersey
is trying something new, and promising, to improve the quality of special
education in the state. Education commissioner Chris Cerf recently awarded $1M in grants
to districts that had the highest absolute performance and highest growth for
their special ed students.

The Garden
State's implementation of
performance-based funding has serious strong points. In a program area that
focuses largely on inputs (i.e., the level of funding and staff dedicated to
special ed students), these grants shift the spotlight to quality. The
initiative also shows how much good a robust data system can do.

The long-term incentives performance-based funding could
provide in this area are a little more worrying, however. A variety of children
are lumped under the "special education" umbrella, and measuring
performance and growth looks very different in each locale depending on the mix
of conditions a district's...

Untouchable?

Untouchable?

Mike Petrilli and Ty Eberhardt discuss the soft spots in President Obama's education record.

For a more in depth view at the president's education record, please read the article on Education Next.

 

Barack Obama
The President could not have been more wrong in his remarks yesterday to the nation's governors on the subject of school teachers.
Photo by jamesomalley.

The Utah
legislature is considering a big move toward student-based
state funding of secondary education
, allowing students to apply public
dollars not only to a variety of public secondary options, but to college
courses as well.

Students could
choose to spend that money to attend public schools, including charter schools;
take public school online classes; and/or pay for courses offered by public and
certain private, nonprofit Utah
colleges. School districts and other providers would determine how much to
charge for classes and that amount would be deducted from student accounts.
Students could use any money left in their accounts after high school to
continue their educations.

Providing secondary education services is becoming an
increasingly complex proposition, as students add community college courses to
their workload, explore...

Maybe now’s not the time for charter schools in Florida to
ask for parity in funding, but it’s unlikely that a move to seek local revenues
from school districts would be welcome in even the best of times.

The passions stirred by a
legislative effort in the Sunshine State
to direct local tax revenues to
charter schools show just how hard it is for charters to find equity in school
systems that rely on property taxes to fund most of their needs. A Florida
senate bill would make it mandatory for districts to share as much as $140
million in local tax revenues with charters on a per-pupil basis for
construction and renovation. State law currently allows districts to
voluntarily share that money. Not surprisingly, few volunteer.

A senate education committee passed the bill recently along
party lines, and the reaction from school districts and newspaper editorial
boards was apoplectic. “Wait. Rewind,” read the Orlando Sentinel editorial page.
“Didn’t charter school prophets pledge to do more with less? Wasn’t less
regulation supposed to deliver greater efficiency?”

The charter school must pledge to do more
...

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