School Finance

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
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
yesterday to the nation's governors on the subject of school

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...



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

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

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

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

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 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...