School Finance

Money
Simply spending more isn't a solution.
Photo by Purple Slog.

More money means better outcomes for kids: It's an argument
heard over and over in state capitals during budget season and in local
newspapers leading up to votes on tax levies. At a recent event on Capitol
Hill, Thomas Gais, the director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government,
made a
similar case
, claiming that more state education funding reliably leads to
better well-being for children. If only it were actually that easy to improve America's
schools!

The main problem with this argument is that we as a country
tend to invest the most in kids who are already on track to do well—middle-class
and wealthy kids, mostly white, largely found in the suburbs. Many are educated
in the "public private" schools we profiled
a couple of years ago. I believe that these kids have high
"well-being,"...

Awaiting waivers

While waiting for the ESEA waiver announcement, Mike and Janie get to look at the week’s more entertaining edu-news, from trials for tardiness to a pot problem in the Rockies. Amber talks pensions and Chris wonders if “walking it off” isn’t always the best idea.

Amber's Research Minute

Pension-Induced Rigidites in the Labor Market for School Leaders

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

Suit: Boy falls, teacher says crawl back to Skokie school

  • A
    suburban Virginia
    district has irked some parents by taking them to court over their children’s
    tardiness. Parent involvement is well and good, but districts will find
    that charging parents with misdemeanors may not foster the kind of engagement
    they were shooting for.
  • As
    Terry noted, on Monday Cleveland's
    mayor announced an ambitious plan to overhaul the city's schools by
    partnering with high performing charters, granting district schools greater
    flexibility, and changing rules over teacher layoffs and pay. First Indianapolis, then Detroit,
    now Cleveland;
    the Rust Belt is finally recognizing that economic revitalization starts
    in city classrooms. As Ohio Governor John Kasich said in Tuesday’s State
    of the State address, “We can change urban education in Ohio and in
    America. That is worth fighting for.”
  • The
    Florida Senate education committee approved a bill requiring school
    districts to share their construction and maintenance funding with
    charter schools
    . Districts can grump all they want, but the fact
    remains that charters have long been denied a crucial part of the funding
    pie; Gadfly hopes they will finally get
  • ...

Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit cover

Since the 1966 Coleman report, pundits and policymakers have
thrown theories, programs, and umpteen dollars at the wall separating black and
white student achievement. Yet the divide between the two (as well as those we
find between other key demographic groups) remains just as firm as ever. This
edited volume from Harvard Education Press offers an overview of the societal
and educational factors that have created the achievement gap—and some tepid potential
solutions. Much of what the book presents is old hat to the weathered
edu-reformer: Schools are not solely to blame and no single solution exists,
for example. Still, the volume offers a few refreshing ideas. One chapter, for example,
expends much ink dispelling the unyielding belief that more money pumped into
education coffers leads to better student outcomes. Instead, W. Norton Grubb
offers cost-cutting strategies meant simultaneously to narrow the achievement
gap, eliminate waste, improve resource allocation, and identify and replicate
successful state policies. While not profound, this is a worthy message,
indeed.

Thomas Timar...

Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit coverLong overshadowed by sexier education-reform topics, pension
reform has gained allure in recent months. This paper—written by
University of Missouri economist Mike Podgursky and colleagues—adds yet more
intrigue to the pension-reform debate: It examines the impact of “pension
borders” (lines dividing districts or states with variant pension benefits) on
the mobility of school leaders. In other words, does leaving one pension system
for another—and thus incurring substantial pension loss—discourage principals
from swapping posts? In a word, yes. Using simulation techniques, analysts
examine eighteen years of panel data from Missouri (1992 to 2010) and find that
pension borders represent a substantial impediment to principal mobility. (Missouri was chosen as the case study because the state
has three distinct pension systems: for Kansas City,
for St. Louis,
and for the rest of the state. With no reciprocity among these systems, they
are as distinctly different as systems are across state lines.) Removing a
pension border between two groups of schools, the analysts found, would roughly
double leadership flows among them. This...

This afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is set to announce
his budget
for the next fiscal year, and the proposal is being described as
"dramatic" and "difficult." Flat state aid for K-12 schools
is the best situation expected—many observers expect further cuts on top of last year's regressive reductions in state aid.

Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state
funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet.

Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state
funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet. Chester Upland
School District has shown
what not to do: pretend extra money will appear out of thin air. After spending
as if last year's state aid reductions never happened, the
district is on the brink of bankruptcy
. School boards, superintendents, and
union leaders in other Pennsylvania
districts have a responsibility to make their budgets work without dragging
their schools to the brink.

Pennsylvania's
lawmakers bear some responsibility—and blame—here as well, however. How they
allocate the cuts needed to balance the state's budget have a real impact on
kids, especially those in disadvantaged...

Maryland is not a hot-bed of education reform (though the
newly-formed MarylandCAN no doubt hopes to change that) and Martin O'Malley is
not usually seen as vying for the crown of public-sector reformer as Chris
Christie, Andrew Cuomo, et al. are. Nevertheless, O'Malley is stepping out in
favor of a much-needed—and relatively unpopular—reform
to Maryland's teacher pension system.

Under current law, the state shoulders most of the burden
for teacher pensions, not districts. It's a sweet deal for the state's
wealthier school districts, which can max out teacher salaries without bearing
much in the way of pension costs. The state, in turn, must divert resources
from other uses to pay the bill for retirement benefits.

The state will only pick up half
the tab, leaving local school boards with significant skin in the game.

O'Malley's plan is modest. The state will only pick up half
the tab, leaving local school boards with significant skin in the game. In
return, the state will pay half of the employer contribution to Social
Security, an expense that is capped by statute and, unlike pension costs, is not
...

Apple's announcement last week that it is entering the textbook market in a big way, with a free product allowing content creators to build engaging digital textbooks more easily, has already gotten lots of reaction

positive and negative ...
  • It’s no secret that American science education is lagging—and
    Fordham will shed more light on why next week when we release our new
    evaluation of state science standards. Meanwhile, the more than 200 separate and often overlapping federal STEM programs
    that the GAO pointed out this week
    demonstrate the dangers of
    turning to Washington to fix things.
  • A Virginia state legislator is proposing that any parent have
    the right to observe
    his or her child’s classroom
    , given reasonable notice. Gadfly objects…to
    having to give reasonable notice. Let’s welcome parental involvement in
    education, not lock the school doors.
  • Chicago’s longer school day has
    only been implemented in a few schools, but is already stressing the district budget. Meanwhile, the teacher union has submitted demands for its new contract, including rejecting Emanuel’s proposed 2 percent
    raise for the longer
    hours. Budgets may get tight in the Windy City, but this is a cause worth finding
    the cash for..
  • President Obama threw a curveball Tuesday night in his State
    of the Union speech when he called on states to raise
    the compulsory education
  • ...

Governor John Kasich’s decision to take his second State of
the State address on the road has been big news in Ohio (see here).  More interesting than the history (Kasich is
the first governor to deliver the address outside of Columbus) is that he will
be delivering his speech at Steubenville’s high performing Wells Academy, which
has long been lauded by the Education Trust as a “Dispelling the
Myth”
school. One hopes the choice of venue is matched by a focus on needed
reforms in education.

Governor Kasich and legislative Republicans delivered some
sizeable reforms in the state’s biennial budget last June. But there is much
left to be done. The most pressing issue facing the state is putting in place a
proper school funding plan. The biennial budget dismantled the state’s
ill-conceived move toward an evidence-based model of school funding and
promised a new funding formula before the next biennium. The governor and his
team need to deliver.

Fordham has long-advocated (with
many others
) for a move toward a weighted, student-based funding system
based on three key principles:

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