School Finance

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.

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
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:

  • Full
  • ...
Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public
schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many
charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter
schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A
glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to
remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did
not participate in the state plan. In
2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain
employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state
teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to
remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the
Treasury Department approved.

Are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that
they can participate in state and local pension plans?

The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it
worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a
plan to be a "governmental plan." In November, the Treasury

The Education Gadfly

Writers on the Gadfly Daily blogs analyzed issues from
around the country this week, discussing everything from the lessons that the Louisiana
Recovery School District
has to offer to the tough talk coming from New
York State

School choice was a big theme, with Fordham announcing the new editor of the Choice Words blog, Adam Emerson, who explained the
importance of “subsidiarity”
in education. On Flypaper, Mike argued that charter schools should approach
district collaboration
with caution and from a position of strength, while
Terry noted that Ohio has prime
of getting charter-district relationships wrong on the Ohio Gadfly
Daily blog.

Stretching the School Dollar explained the flaws in a recent
funding court decision
and why paycheck
needs to be a policy priority, while on the Common Core Watch
blog Kathleen argued that having a plan for CCSS implementation is a start—but
just a start

To stay on top of all Fordham’s wit and wisdom, be sure to
subscribe to the combined RSS

Joshua Dunn
Associate professor in political science, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs

Guest blogger Joshua Dunn is an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. In this post, originally published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, he dissects a judge's flawed ruling in a recent Colorado school funding case.

In a 2001 interview, a little-known state senator and law school professor
from Illinois
cautioned that courts are “poorly equipped” for making public policy. Pointing
to problems with the legitimacy and ability of courts, particularly in the
field of education, he advised
seeking change through politics rather than through litigation. Sadly, both of
Barack Obama’s concerns were exemplified in a Colorado state court decision last December.

In the long-running Lobato
v. Colorado school finance case
, Denver District Court Judge Sheila
Rappaport declared that Colorado
is underfunding education by more than $2 billion per year. She said that the
seventeen-year-old Public School Finance Act violates the education clause of
the state Constitution, which says that the state legislature shall provide a
“thorough and uniform” system of public schools. She instructed the state
legislature to...

In case you missed it, Terry Ryan wrote a great post yesterday on the potential implications of Ohio's funding crisis for education in the state:

Ohio’s newspapers ran headlines today warning, “Money
crunch pushes Downtown roadwork way back
,” “Local
highway projects face delays
,” and “Last
phase of I-75/I-475 project stalls
.” The financial problems facing Ohio is
scaling back big time infrastructure projects that have been in planning for
years. According to the Columbus Dispatch
the Ohio Department of Transportation “proposes pushing back 34 projects that
had been planned to start by 2017 to dates as far off as 2036.
Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation,
captured the problem when he told the Cincinnati
"Unfortunately, this
is Ohio’s new reality. For too long, previous administrations have added more
and more to the list of projects knowing that there were more projects than
funds available. Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the
tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the
state that there is simply...

That’s the headline above Paul Peterson’s better-than-nifty
on the Ed Next blog.

Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at
Harvard and Executive Editor of Education
(of which I am a contributing editor), uses the Mac the Knife
reference to suggest that loyalties can be bought “for a pittance.” In this
case, it’s the National Education Association (NEA), which can, Peterson

…collect multi-millions of dollars through a check-off system
that generates revenues directly from teacher paychecks (unless a teacher
specifically objects),” and, a la the
villain of Mac the Knife, “invest in the work of less-advantaged non-profits
that ostensibly have entirely different agendas. Even a little bit of money can
produce a valuable ally somewhere down the line.

It’s a short essay, but is packed with evidence (from the Education Intelligence
) of NEA’s multi-tentacled reach, from a $250,000 grant to the Great
Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (“which has migrated to the
University of Colorado at Boulder, which received another quarter million in
direct funding,” says Peterson) to $100,000 for Media Matters,...