School Finance

During construction of the continental railroads in the 1860s, workers dug from both ends to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains. When they met in the middle, the tunnel was finished and the trains could roll. This is how America became a great continental power. This image of the tunnel bored from two directions is an apt metaphor for what needs to happen with Governor Kasich’s biennial budget proposal (House Bill 59) and the very different plan emerging from the Ohio House this week.

Governor Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” plan has three main things going for it. First, it actually tries to target children and the schools they actually attend as the loci of public funding, as opposed to just spreading money across school districts. Traditionally, school funding has been about simply spreading the money around so far more districts feel like winners than losers. The House version does this by reducing the number of districts receiving no new money from nearly 400 to 175. But in doing so the House version loses some of the worthy Kasich reforms. 

Specifically, Kasich’s plan proposed reducing one-size fits all spending restrictions by removing a number of minimum operating standards.  This would free up educators but the House puts those standards back in place. They mandate practices like assignment of personnel and the use of specific instructional materials (especially odd considering the speed at which blended learning is spreading across the state). The House version also requires fixed staffing ratios...

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GadflyThe Obama administration’s budget proposal was late to the party and is mostly a big yawn—at least when it comes to K–12 education. The big-ticket items, such as they are: level-funding for Title I and IDEA; new efforts to promote STEM education and tweak American high schools; and a Race to the Top for higher education. The real firepower is reserved for the President’s well-designed Pre-K plan, which would be the biggest federal expansion into early childhood since the creation of Head Start, to be financed by a huge increase in cigarette taxes. Were it not for Congressional realities, it might even be something to get excited about.

After changing part of the exam it uses to determine which four-year-olds are eligible for the coveted gifted-and-talented slots in its public schools, New York City has (very slightly) reduced the number of children who qualify. Yet most of the high scorers still came from the city’s richer areas—a problem, given that they altered the test precisely in order to combat the influence of income-related factors, such as test-prep programs. And (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) there still aren’t enough suitable options for gifted children.

Researchers from Yale, MIT, USC, and Stanford, with a little pocket change (i.e., a $10 million grant) from the National Science Foundation, are experimentally placing...

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Terry Ryan addresses a gathering of the Ohio League of Women Voters at the Riffe Center on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Terry Ryan was a guest of the Ohio League of Women Voters today during their annual Statehouse Day, participating in a panel session on education funding in Ohio with Dr. William Phillis, Executive Director of The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.

A standing room only crowd of highly-engaged individuals from across Ohio listened to opening statements that looked back at least as much at the history of education funding in Ohio as they looked to the future of that funding, as proposed in the current state budget, HB 59. Dr. Phillis presented the history of changes in the organization and administration and funding of “the public common school” since 1821, raising alarms over loss of money from existing districts via charter schools and vouchers as well as alarms over the loss of local control of education and the loss of community when schooling is not held in common in a given area of the state. He previewed his public testimony for Wednesday by arguing forcefully for a legislative education commission – of the kind that existed in Ohio off and on from 1913 to the 1980s – to research and inform the General Assembly on matters of public education.

Terry took a similar historical view, but noting how very many...

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Special-education funding is a thorny landscape, within which lie sundry footpaths whereby dollars are allocated via intersecting trails of state, local, and federal statutes and regulations. More difficult still is that few states offer trail maps for this complex terrain. Data are cumbersome; evaluations of program effectiveness are rarely undertaken. This is what makes this account from Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor so refreshing. The mixed-methods report explains the characteristics and costs of special education in the Gopher State, as well as the practical effects of the state’s special-ed requirements—and offers recommendations for the state legislature on how to lower special-education costs and streamline compliance regulations. In Minnesota, for example, the number of special-education students increased 11 percent between 1999–2000 and 2010–11, and spending on this group bumped up 22 percent (this while overall student enrollment dropped 3 percent). According to district leaders, this has meant that “school districts have had to divert a substantial portion of general education dollars and local operating levies to pay for special education expenditures.” The report offers the legislature a number of suggestions for how to counteract these trends. For example: Supply districts with comparative data on different staffing patterns and their costs. As special-education costs rise (even as disability identification in the nation continues to decline), more such mapping and bushwhacking must be done. Expect more from Fordham on this front in the upcoming months.

SOURCE: James Nobles, Jody Hauer, Sarah Roberts Delacueva, and Jodi Munson Rodriguez, Evaluation Report:...

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GadflyA fierce school-choice debate rages in Alabama—but the threat to the Common Core standards has receded, for now. When it became clear that the Senate Education Committee would not approve a bill to revoke the Heart of Dixie’s commitment to the standards, the sponsor of the bill himself withdrew it from consideration. This is well and good. Now maybe they can get back to safeguarding the separation of powers—and implementing the Common Core.

South Dakota has the (dubious) honor of being the first state to explicitly authorize school employees to carry guns to work. State groups representing teachers and school boards expressed concern that the bill had been rushed to a vote, did not actually make schools safer, and ignored other approaches to safety, such as employing armed officers. In related news, a Texas school employee recently shot himself at a concealed-carry class for teachers.

Boston has approved a new school-assignment plan that reflects not just geography but also school quality—amounting to the greatest change in the way that the city assigns students in twenty-five years and “finally dismantling the remnants of the notorious [1970s] busing plan.” Mike Petrilli is optimistic; for his take, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

The opposition to KIPP DC’s plan to build a new high school is indicative of challenges that most charter schools face: Its future neighbors...

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Fordham’s gadflies have been buzzing over the past weeks, discussing Governor Kasich’s budget, Common Core, and Student Nomads. If you’ve missed any of these items, here’s your chance to catch up!

  • In a Columbus Dispatch editorial, Terry Ryan wrote in favor of the governor’s school funding plan. The plan, Ryan argues, is worthy of support because it “recognizes the fact that more and more of the state’s students attend schools other than their neighborhood district schools.” And by acknowledging this fact, Governor Kasich’s plan attempts to “target children and their schools as the locus of public funding, as opposed to funding just school district.” For more analysis of the governor’s funding plan, please see Steps in the Right Direction, a report conducted by esteemed school finance professor Dr. Paul Hill.
  • Emmy Partin was a guest on National Public Radio’s The Sound of Ideas, discussing Ohio’s impending transition to the Common Core State Standards in 2014-15. The conversation, which included representatives of the Ohio Department of Education, State Impact Ohio, Cleveland Teachers Union, and callers from the general public, spotlighted changes in classroom instruction, Ohio’s standardized exams, and graduation requirements that are and will occur under the new academic standards.
  • Fordham facilitated a community discussion around student mobility in Dayton and Cincinnati, the third and fourth in a series of such conversations about mobility. (See here for the recaps of the Columbus and Cleveland events.) The discussions, which included Dayton Public Schools’ superintendent
  • ...
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Governor Kasich’s budget plan, now being debated in the House, calls for expanding the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship program. This statewide voucher program is one of four public voucher programs currently available to parents and students in the Buckeye State. Together these programs allow about 22,500 students to use publicly funded vouchers to attend a private or parochial school of their choice. The governor’s proposal would provide, on a first come first serve basis, vouchers starting in 2013-14 for any kindergartner with a household income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level – about $46,000 a year for a family of four. Voucher amounts would be up to $4,250 a year, and participating schools could not charge tuition above this amount.

In 2014-15, voucher eligibility would extend to all students in grades K-3 in a school building that gets low marks in the early literacy measure on the state’s new report card. The funding for the voucher will not be deducted from a school district’s state aid, but rather be paid out directly by the state. Kasich’s budget allocates $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 for 2,000 new vouchers and $17 million in 2015 for up to 4,000 new vouchers.

Despite the modest scale of this proposed growth, and the fact the state will cover the voucher amounts, district educators are up in arms about the expansion. Yellow Springs’ Superintendent Mario Basora captured the view of many district officials across the state when he told the Dayton Daily...

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Governor Kasich’s budget plan, now being debated in the House, calls for expanding the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship program. This statewide voucher program is one of four public voucher programs currently available to parents and students in the Buckeye State. Together these programs allow about 22,500 students to use publicly funded vouchers to attend a private or parochial school of their choice. The governor’s proposal would provide, on a first come first serve basis, vouchers starting in 2013-14 for any kindergartner with a household income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level – about $46,000 a year for a family of four. Voucher amounts would be up to $4,250 a year, and participating schools could not charge tuition above this amount.

In 2014-15, voucher eligibility would extend to all students in grades K-3 in a school building that gets low marks in the early literacy measure on the state’s new report card. The funding for the voucher will not be deducted from a school district’s state aid, but rather be paid out directly by the state. Kasich’s budget allocates $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 for 2,000 new vouchers and $17 million in 2015 for up to 4,000 new vouchers.

Despite the modest scale of this proposed growth, and the fact the state will cover the voucher amounts, district educators are up in arms about the expansion. Yellow Springs’ Superintendent Mario Basora captured the view of many district officials across the state when he told the Dayton Daily...

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Over the last decade the state of Ohio has invested over $10 billion in new school construction. Some of these school buildings opened in the mid-2000s, only to be shut down or repurposed just five or six years later. The Dayton Daily News reported in August 2011, for example, that “Trotwood-Madison is closing two elementary schools this fall. The Springfield City School District and Tecumseh Local schools are repurposing a new school building each because they didn’t have the students to fill them.”

This story of new public school buildings being built, and closed in just a few years, is important to understanding the logic behind Governor Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” school funding plan. His plan is remarkable because it actually tries to target children and their schools as the locus of public funding, as opposed to funding just school districts. The Kasich plan recognizes the fact that more and more of the state’s students attend schools other than their neighborhood district schools. As such, funding for their education should follow them to their respective school or educational program.

To understand what a shift in thinking this represents a little history is necessary. The public conversation around school funding in Ohio for decades has revolved around issues of “equity” and “adequacy;” between “rich” and “poor” school districts. The first “DeRolph” decision in 1997 by the Ohio Supreme Court, for example, ruled that school funding depended overmuch on local property taxes and thereby perpetuated unacceptable inequities across school districts. Since then, consecutive General Assemblies...

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Social-impact bonds (SIBs), or pay for success financing, are innovative financial arrangements
that could provide a cutting-edge way to fund experimentation and expanded opportunities in
public education.

SIBs are entirely contingent on the performance of the service provider and promise returns to
private investors only if performance objectives are met. They were first pioneered in England
in 2010. Today they are being used to achieve goals such as decreasing homelessness in
England and reducing recidivism at Rikers Island prison in New York. There is growing
interest in SIBs: According to The Economist, when Harvard University professor Jeffrey
Liebman, who assisted in the set-up of several American SIBs, invited other states and local
governments to apply for his help setting up their own, he received 28 applications.

Social-impact bonds have many designs, but have at least three fundamental, common
characteristics:
• A definable, verifiable outcome to be achieved by the social service provider, the
recipient of the funds;
• An initiating party, such as a government agency, that issues the bonds and is
responsible for making payments to the organization and investors; and
• Authority and discretion is granted to the service provider in how it goes about achieving
the desired goal.

So how might this unique funding model benefit education? Consider the hypothetical case of an
independent, education-focused organization—perhaps a foundation—that wants to help launch
more “early college” high schools in a state. That organization would work with a bond-issuing
entity, like state government, to develop a social-impact bond. Meanwhile,...

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