School Finance

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
...

In the ongoing saga of Pennsylvania’s Chester Upland School
District, revisionist historians are growing louder, asserting that
“privatization” and the emergence of the Keystone State’s largest charter
school have hastened the district’s much-publicized and impending death. First,
a quick review: The school district says it’s broke; Gov. Tom Corbett has
promised aid, but without a clear source; now the New York Times has
pointed a finger at the Chester Community Charter School, which claims it’s
owed nearly $7 million by the district and the state. Enrollment at the charter
has risen to 45 percent of the district’s students, and its presence has led
commentators to declare that school choice is partly to blame for Chester
Upland’s financial woes. Unfortunately for critics (including but by no means
limited to the NEA), the problems at Chester Upland preceded the launch of the
charter by several years, and many entities, public and private, have gotten
their hands dirty; the state had to take over the district’s finances between
1994 and 2010, Edison Schools tried and failed to turn the district around, and
...

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

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...

  • 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
  • ...

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 ...

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