School Finance

Special education has been one of the few spending areas largely exempted from budget pressure since revenues took a hit following the 2008-09 financial crisis. This is due largely to maintenance of effort requirements that put districts in danger of losing federal dollars if they dared to touch the special ed budget. The Department of Education issued guidance to ease the burden last year but announced last week that they're pulling the rug out from under administrators, caving to special interests "after further review" (and, not incidentally, following an angry letter from activists at the Center for Law and Education). The new guidance states that once a district commits to a given level of spending on special education, it can (almost) never cut back, a very tough mandate given the present fiscal environment for schools.

Students with special needs certainly deserve additional resources to help them be successful in the classroom. Almost no one questions that nearly forty years after the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, thanks to that law and the work of advocates. However, ring-fencing the money dedicated to these students puts the majority of students served in the general education program...

Hugh Quill

Fewer state tax dollars for Ohio’s local governments and schools have public administrators talking, in the light of day no less, about mergers and shared services – topics long taboo in the Buckeye State’s public sector. Most public officials fear the former and suspect that the latter is just a catchy phrase that stands for comingling their funds for the benefit of others.

Elected officials can be forgiven for their reluctance to discuss mergers and service consolidations. They didn’t create this maze of public service delivery; and until stagnant population growth, aging Babyboomers, and weakening soft economy caught up with Ohio, the status quo seemed sustainable. Citizens also have misgivings about consolidation and sharing. They view merging their local governments as a potential loss of identity and fear their sense of community will be sacrificed in the process. In Ohio, all politics really are local, and local control has been a sacred cow.

The reality is that public institutions have long succeeded in gaining taxpayers’ approval to dig deeper in their wallets because citizens fear that doing otherwise will result in bad schools, crumbling infrastructure, community decay, and lower property values. Times have changed. The economy tanked in 2008...

Hugh Quill

Fewer state tax dollars for Ohio’s local governments and schools have public administrators talking, in the light of day no less, about mergers and shared services – topics long taboo in the Buckeye State’s public sector. Most public officials fear the former and suspect that the latter is just a catchy phrase that stands for comingling their funds for the benefit of others.

Elected officials can be forgiven for their reluctance to discuss mergers and service consolidations. They didn’t create this maze of public service delivery; and until stagnant population growth, aging Babyboomers, and weakening soft economy caught up with Ohio, the status quo seemed sustainable. Citizens also have misgivings about consolidation and sharing. They view merging their local governments as a potential loss of identity and fear their sense of community will be sacrificed in the process. In Ohio, all politics really are local, and local control has been a sacred cow.

The reality is that public institutions have long succeeded in gaining taxpayers’ approval to dig deeper in their wallets because citizens fear that doing otherwise will result in bad schools, crumbling infrastructure, community decay, and lower property values. Times have changed. The economy tanked in 2008 and...

Maybe not, is the answer from a recent poll of New York State teachers conducted by the Empire Center. The poll found that 70 percent of public-school teachers would have considered a defined-contribution retirement option had they been given the chance, and a quarter felt they definitely would have chosen a 401k-style plan over a traditional pension. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that most teachers (about two-thirds of those surveyed) felt such non-traditional plans were good retirement options, roughly the same number as approved of traditional pensions.

It's not clear that young workers value a benefit that many of them will never receive.

The cost of providing teacher pensions is on the rise in many states, New York included. It's also not clear that young workers value a benefit that many of them will never receive. Only a minority of educators teaches for a full career in the same pension system and receives the full retirement benefit offered.

The Empire Center poll asked teachers about one possible alternative, a hybrid plan that would provide a basic level of financial security through a small traditional pension, with a 401k-style individual account on top. Raegen Miller at the Center...

The No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools that have not made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two consecutive years to offer children of low-income families the opportunity to receive supplemental educational services (SES). SES comes primarily in the form of tutoring offered outside of regular schools hours and is often provided by private entities. Schools failing to meet AYP requirements are required to set aside 20 percent of their Title I funding to pay for SES and to measure the effectiveness of tutoring on student achievement. How much impact does SES have on student achievement though? A recent report by the Center for American Progress sets out to answer this question as well as provide policy recommendations that aim to improve the SES program.  

The report found that many states and school districts are extremely deficient in the evaluation and recording of SES providers and their results. A combination of self-reporting and unreliable data collection methods such as parent surveys has resulted in lack-luster evidence on the effectiveness of tutoring programs.  In addition to the lack of sufficient data among states and districts, the number of tutoring hours that students receive is critical in the impact...

Expanding
access to higher education—and preparing students well for postsecondary
challenges during K-12—is a key priority for the nation's economic
competitiveness. The last year alone has seen a variety of initiatives to bend
the cost curve, including Rick Perry's $10K
bachelor's degree
and MIT's
certificates
(or "badges") for online learning. Community college enrollment
also boomed
during the financial crisis, with students and parents hunting
for a decent education at a "Great Recession"-friendly price. Since
college costs have grown
faster than inflation
(or health care!) since the early 1980s, improving
access and controlling costs must be linked.

Nassau Hall, Princeton
There's nothing "un-American" about choosing an affordable college over an a elite school.
Photo by Chris Barry.

Paul
Krugman sees something sinister
, even un-American, in all this talk of
value for money, however. He quotes Republican Presidential candidate Mitt
Romney on this point as proof that the GOP doesn't...

Ask
almost any leader of a growing urban charter school about their biggest
worries, and real estate is likely to be at the top of the list. City-dwelling
young parents want schools that are convenient to their homes and—increasingly—public
transit. Government has (appropriately) high expectations of school buildings
but provides little to no money for charter school facilities in most
jurisdictions. Educators and school leaders want all of the above to provide a
fantastic experience for their students—without breaking the bank. This is not
something the real estate market can provide in most cities. 

Newark skyline II
Cities like Newark, New Jersey are experimenting with creative uses of space to improve education options.
Photo by William F. Yurasko.

To
make the problem even more difficult, city centers are redeveloping, with
entire neighborhoods gentrifying, building mixed-use housing and innovative
commercial spaces. Young professionals who a generation ago might have fled for
the ‘burbs as they settled...

Once upon a time, corporate IT departments lived by the
slogan "no one ever got fired for buying IBM." Big Blue's products
were a safe bet in a rapidly evolving industry. The over-reliance of the
Fortune 500 on that safe bet proved to be a
problem for those companies
, which missed out on innovations adopted by
more nimble rivals, and for IBM itself, which stagnated in the absence of
pressure from customers to push the envelope. District schools suffer from the
same "buy IBM" problem, with state policies and district budget
decisions making it difficult for principals and teachers to adopt promising
new options for delivering instruction.

An EdWeek piece today documents the struggle
ed-tech startups wage...

Guest
blogger Layla Bonnot is a research intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Is the number of free and reduced-price lunch
participants an accurate proxy for the number of poor kids in America’s schools? New Jersey’s acting education
commissioner, Chris Cerf, isn’t so sure. A recent article in The Star-Ledger highlights Cerf’s two concerns: first, that the
self-reported basis of Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP) participation
makes the count prone to errors and—potentially—fraud, and second, that this
number alone might not be a reliable proxy for the number of students living in
poverty.

20111019-FNS-RBN-1767
Mr. Cerf, I wouldn’t throw out school lunches quite yet—maybe just add a few other ingredients into the mix.
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The issue of fraud in the lunch room pops up every couple of years. Detailed audits
have shown that some students who should receive benefits do not, some parents or
schools make honest mistakes...

The Pioneer Institute is no friend of the
Common Core—which needs to be remembered when reading its latest missive.
Released last week, this report claims that it will cost the nation $15.8
billion to implement the new standards over a seven-year period, with the lion’s
share of those costs incurred during the first year. (Worse, the authors further
remind readers that this is, at best, a “midrange” estimate.) The Institute projects
a $10 million-plus invoice per school
for professional development, technology, and textbooks and instructional
materials in the first year alone—a number that strikes us as radically
inflated, to put it kindly. To be sure, implementing the Common Core well will bring
costs: Aligning materials, instruction, and assessments with new standards
cannot be done on the cheap if it’s going to be done well. But Pioneer’s
estimates are misleading. Not every dollar spent on CCSS will be “new money.” (It’s
not as if we’re spending zip on professional development, textbooks, and the
rest currently.) Nor do states need to follow the tired blueprint we’ve...

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