Chat Transcript: The State of School Finance
The State of School Finance
Lynn Olson (Moderator):
Welcome to Education Week and edweek.org’s chat on Quality Counts 2005: Targeting Money Toward Student Performance. I’m Lynn Olson, the project editor for the report, and I’ll be moderating our discussion today. Joining us today are Jacob Adams, a senior research fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington; Janet Hansen, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation; and Jennifer Park, a senior research associate with the Education Week Research Center. Lets get started.
Question from Jerry Gauderman, Superintendent, Shell Lakes Schools:
I believe that there are a number of state school financing systems that are being challenged in the courts. Can you give us an update of their status.
We sure can! And you are right that there is a lot of activity in the courts right now surrounding school finance. We found that 16 states are currently facing a lawsuit, and that 20 states have had to deal with a lawsuit, decision, or settlement in the past five years. Just five states and the District of Columbia have never had a lawsuit filed against their school finance system.
Recently, plaintiffs have starting to challenge school finance systems based on adequacy claims, a shift from the prominence of equity complaints in the past. And now, in part due to that shift, the plaintiffs are winning about two-thirds of the cases.
Question from Maureen Grolnick, Director of Publishing, Teachers College Library, Teachers College, Columbia University:
Are you optimistic about the impact of the adequacy-based State Supreme Court Decision (finally upheld on appeal), including the special masters’ recommendations, on school finance in New York State? What would make this a success story?
Tough question! It would be nice to think that the court decision would force the legislature to act, but we have examples from New Jersey and Texas of taking years for legislatures to find politically acceptable remedies. A success story: if New York City gets additional money to meet its educational challenges AND if the city can successfully use this money (and the money it already has) to improve student performance. This means paying attention to accountability for the use of education dollars and not just to the amount of funding available.
Question from Matt Reitz, Asst. Principal, Loyalsock Township High School:
My own research on school finance patterns indicates that, in order to gain the best insight into how money is spent on programs and interventions to bolster student acheivement, more has to be done to examine actual school level data. What is your perspective on how this could be accomplished, both at the state and federal level?
Your question addresses a key issue in the “new school finance.” If we are serious about using resources to support student learning, we will have to develop information systems that track resources, broadly construed, and student performance at the school level. Otherwise, we’ll never have the fine-grained information we need to effectively address performance challenges at individual schools.
This transformation means moving away from a reliance on district-level accounting by functions (such as administration and transportation) and objects (such as principal salaries and tires for the bus) and moving toward accounting systems that track resource allocation and use for instructional and other purposes at each school.
In a school-focused system, I think we’d want information about three broad areas. First, how resources are actually used in schools, such as class size, the distribution of teachers across subject areas, and the use of planning time and formative assessments.
Second, the composition of professional development, school support, and supervision. This might entail looking at a school-wide professional development strategy, developing a menu of best practices, and supporting mentoring and induction programs.
Third, we’d want to know how district-controlled resources are allocated to schools.
You can see from these quick illustrations that finance accounting systems that support student performance are going to be focused much more on how resources are actually used, not just where dollars are assigned. But it’s this nitty-gritty information about use that will allow principals and teachers to be match resources to challenges, policy makers to support that work in targeted and effective ways.
Question from Laura Houdesheldt, Market Manager, Kenexa:
Do you believe that the quality of the teacher is related to student performance? If so, shouldn’t dollars be allocated toward the hiring and retention of high-quality teachers?
Research has shown that good teaching does matter (see Bill Sanders work, for example). And, we have looked specifically at this issue since such a large portion of education dollars are spent on teacher salaries and benefits. So it is an important question to ask how effectively those dollars are spent! We found, though, that most states rely heavily on the single-salary schedule, which rewards teachers solely on their education and experience, regardless of their performance in the classroom. In fact, we found that 20 states mandate the use of a single-salary schedule.
Just seven states have teacher compensation systems in place (often referred to as “pay-for-performance” programs) that compensate teachers for their knowledge and skill in the classroom, for improved student test scores, or both.
Question from Robert Draper, parent:
I’m in Arizona which has a good supply of state trust land and one of the worst education spending records in the country. Are you aware of any states that have tied sales of state land specifically to education funding?
No, I’m not, though this doesn’t mean that no one has looked at this issue. (Aside: this is the way many of the early public colleges and universities were funded in the 19th century!) Texas has used revenue from oil to set up a permanent endomwnt fund for its universities--maybe this is an analogy worth looking at.
Question from Sharon G. Voliva, President, Board of Education, Thornton Township HIgh School District 205, IL. and Chair of Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition of Illinois:
Following is my compound question, however it is really only one question. How do we compare this years state report cards to last years to see if there is improvement, when your method of reporting has changed? How do we find the actual numbers on which the determination of a particular grade was based? Do we just throw out all previous Quality Counts reports and start over -- hoping the method of reporting won’t change again next year? (If a grade of F has now become a C, is that improvement or just a change in the way it was calculated?)
We do tweak the grading in our report each year if new research or trends in state policy become apparent. And this year, due to our in-depth look at school finance and based on the advice of our Quality Counts advisory board, we made some significant changes to our equity grades. Besides comparing the grades with these changes in mind, it may be more valuable to compare individual indicators in the report from year to year to see the specific changes over time more clearly.
By the way, a detailed explanation of how we grade the states is available.
Question from Eric Hirsch, Southeast Center for Teaching Quality:
I think Quality Counts is of great value, but I worry when the ratings are based so much on policies in place vs. their effectiveness and implementation. For example, Louisiana received the highest teaching quality grade in the country but had the lowest % of those teaching with a content major. I know apples to apples cross-state comparisons on implementation are difficult, but what evidence have you tried to assemble?
You raise an important point. We are very upfront that what we are grading in our report is what state policy efforts are in place, and not the actual implementation of those policies. This is even why we play the semantics game a little, and title our teacher section “Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality.” We don’t want to come across as actually grading the actual teachers in each state. Even local control states that leave of lot of decisions up to districts will not fare as well in our grades. We have noticed though, and Louisiana is a good example, that some states that do not do as well on the outcome indicators we have in the report (such as NAEP performance) will implement more aggressive state-level policy, potentially in an effort to improve on those outcome indicators.
Question from Lynda Brannon, Executive Director, Mt Assoc of School Business Officials:
Are you aware of any states that may have “a system of quality education” defined. The Mt Supreme Court has charged our legislature to define this statement that appears in our constitution. Thanks
Oregon has a “Quality Education Commission” charged with identifying a quality education and recommending the funding needed for it. (Doesns’t mean the legislature enacts this funding, but at least it has the information....) California has a similar QEC just getting established. Many state courts have attempted to define the “adequacy” clauses in their state constitutions; the answers differ from state to state. You might look at KY, NY, WY for some examples.
Question from Sonja Dziedzic, Teacher, Emerson Middle School:
Why is it that it is appropriate for school funding to be based solely or predominantly on property taxes? It is a situation in which tax caps exist to protect people from being “taxed out of” their own homes on one hand and schools not being able to have sufficient operating revenue on the other. It ‘pits” the old against the young and is ridiculous. (Illinois)
You raise a good point, and states really are struggling right now to raise an adequate amount of money, regardless of the economy, in a way that is fair to both students and taxpayer. Historically, since education started as a local enterprise, the reliance on local property taxes made sense. But, after taxpayer backlash and concerns about the inequitable distribution of property wealth, property taxes made people uncomfortable as the main source for education funding. There is a positive to the property tax, though, that is often overlooked, and that is its stability in tough economic times. Other taxes that are also used to fund education, such as sales taxes, are not as stable.
Question from Julie Stroeve, parent and teacher:
Have per pupil expenditures -- taking into account inflation -- risen, declined or stayed basically the same over the last 25 or 30 years? Has the percentage of students achieving at grade level risen, declined or stayed basically the same over the last 25 or 30 years?
Per pupil expenditures (accounting for inflation) have risen quite a bit over the past 30 years. Analysts argue about how much, because schools have also taken on new responsibilities (e.g., much more spending on students with disabilities than before the 1970s, when many such students were excluded from public schools altogether). Student achieve has risen a bit over this 30 year period, but not as much as spending.
Question from Paul Hoss, teacher, Scituate Public Schools, Scituae, Massachusetts:
Is there any public policy group today examining the possibility of funding practices from outside the box, (i. e. higher taxes on tobacco products, state highways, commercial real estate, etc.) which could possibly result in more equitable state funding formulas?
Paul Hoss Scituate Public Schools Scituate, Massachusetts 02066
On our state policy survey, we looked at just this issue, and asked states what taxes, if any, they have earmarked for K-12 education. We found 31 states that had a tax or fee earmarked at least in part to education. Since facing a tougher economy over the last few years, we have seen more states dedicating a portion of revenue from miscellaneous taxes or fees. The most common taxes states have been using are sales taxes or taxes on tobacco or alcohol products.
Question from Patrick Student YSU:
If schools are finacially penalized for poor performance, then how does education improve without money? Good teachers don’t want to work for low performing schools and let’s face it, 30k isn’t exactly dangling a carrot in their face.
You ask two two important questions. Let’s take them in turn.
If our goal is to improve student performance, then no one will want to penalize schools for poor performance in ways that prevent them from getting better. That would be counterproductive. The issue here is striking a balance between accountability systems that, on one hand, accurately account for student performance, indicate problems and needed improvements, and motivate staff and students, and on the other hand, strip schools of needed resources and motivation. Our experience with high stakes accountability systems is still relatively new, and states, districts, and schools are still on a fairly steep part of the learning curve. Now is the time to be experimenting and learning from our experience so that we develop accountability systems, including rewards and sanctions, that make sense for the public and policy makers, AND for principals, teachers, students, and families.
The key finance issue here is allocating and using dollars and other resources to enhance the motivation and capacity of teachers and students, and to create classrooms and schools where learning can occur most effectively.
The other issue you raise is also important: how to ensure that we have good teachers in the classrooms where they are most needed. Here I’d suggest that we need to experiment with differential pay and other policies that create incentives for teachers to teach in low-performing schools. To use your language, if 30k isn’t a big enough carrot, what is? We should be studying and experimenting to find out. Placing the best teachers in the neediest classrooms just makes sense.
Question from Ralph Moore, teacher (future administrator), Department of Defense Dependent Schools, Belgium:
I live and teach in Europe now, but it seems every time I come home I hear the debate about Lottery monies and education. When I was a teacher in Florida I noticed that each year our state allocations went down while the Lottery Billboards advertised how much money was being earned for education. Has anyone done research on those states that have inplemented lotteries (supposedly in the name of tax revenue for schools, and shown if states reduce the amount of funding proportionally to the tax amount of monies collected from Lotteries?
I’m sure there are researchers who’ve looked at this question, but I’m sorry I don’t know who without looking into it. I suspect the question about supplementing or replacing other education funding varies from place to place. You might check out the Rockefeller Institute of Government (SUNY-Albany) website: they have a state fiscal policy institute (might not exact name) that tracks state financial issues and might have info on your question. Also the websites of the Education Commission of the States (www.ecs.org) and National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org). Both have a lot of information on education finance.
I also wanted to point out that we surveyed the states on whether they use lottery revenue for education. We found that forty states and the District of Columbia have some kind of lottery in place, and that 24 of those states dedicate at least a portion of the proceeds to precollegiate education.
Question from Jack Koczela, co-founder, PROP 100%, Washington DC:
With respect to the condition of facilities and available research that indicates that students are able to function better, perhaps learn better, in clean, safe, modern and respectful facilities, could your panelists comment on how various states consider or are considering allocating capital funds (for modernizations and new schools) on a per student basis?
Like everything else in school finace, the answer to your question is that it varies greatly across the states. We do track which states actually provide facilities or debt service funding, however, and we found that 39 states and the District of Columbia do so.
Since school construction is not counted in the day-to-day operating expenses in schools, it is typically not funded through school finance formulas. More often states use categorical aid or lump sum grants.
Question from Julie Davis Hine , Parent and Science Educator ,Brighton Michigan Schools:
How can the problem of un- or underfunded mandates be addressed?
One (partial) solution is through good analysis: i.e., documenting the nature and extent of the underfunding. Along these lines, a number of states are currently trying to figure out what it is really going to cost them to comply with the No Child Left Behind federal law, and how that cost compares with the federal funding being made available. But the solution is political and not just analytical: state and local policy makers have to be able to persuade officials “up the line” that unfunded or underfunded mandates are hurting schools and students.
Question from Mark Carter, Social, Social Studies teacher, North Clayton High School:
I would like to know about alternatives to funding school based upon property tax.
One solution to the problem that the property tax can be inequitable at the local level is to collect it instead at the state level. Vermont is an example of a state that has implemented a statewide property tax.
Question from Jeffery Johnson, Art teacher, Milwaukee Public Schools:
I am disturbed at the description for “The State of School Finance” chat, in which the idea of focusing education spending on academic results figures prominently. We talk about quality as if education were a product that occurs only once, only at a certain time. Learning at school certainly does not occur in a void - the student’s environment(s) must play a part, or we run the risk of fatally skewing the data to base the funding for our schools. Working with an urban population of students, my colleagues and I see how little or no educational foundation from home impacts (greatly) the learning achieved - or not achieved - in school. How would a policy recommendation address and deal with the very real and influencing factor(s) of the home environment on the school environment. I would also challenge the notion that the schools are inherently flawed as the description suggests; rather, the funding system is inherently flawed which limits the abilities of schools to function as they should.
Jeffery W. Johnson
Well, we did look at one way states and districts can accomplish both sides of your question -- by targeting dollars where they are needed most to improve student achievement, and meet the needs of students with varying backgrounds. Check out our story and chart on the idea of weighted student funding.
We found that there is a lot of activity at the state level to funnel additional dollars to students who experts agree it costs more to educate, such as students with disabilities or those in poverty. But the same is not happening when districts, in turn, allocate those funds to schools.
Question from Mary Kaull, editorial writer, Rockford (Ill.) Register Star:
Here in Illinois, we have been talking about fixing a crisis in school finance for at least 15 years. What does it take? What has triggered action in other states? Inequity of resources? Budget deficits? (Eighty percent of public school districts in Ill. are in the red.)
Every state is different. Maryland’s legislature implemented a major overall of the state’s school finance system a couple of years ago without an immediate court mandate and created a standards-based structure. Observers didn’t expect the legislature to be successful, but they were. In Kentucky, important groups (politicians, business and civic leaders) wanted badly to improve education in the state and moved quickly to implement a 1989 court order to revamp the entire educational system (not just finance). On the other hand, even after court orders it took public officials in Texas and New Jersey years (even decades)to find politically-acceptable solutions for their school finance problems.
Comment from Mary Weaver, retired:
FYI -- Not a question -- just a comment. California has in law the structure for a Quality Education Commission (QEC) that has been privately funded. HOWEVER, with the recall election last year, the new Governor rescinded the former Governor’s appointments and now has called for the commission to be disbanded (it has not met because not all commissioners are named). Of course, the QEC wouldn’t have cost taxpayers because two generous foundations committed to funding it.
Question from Nancy Caggia, parent:
With an attractive housing selling point being an area’s great school system, what’s the possibility of impact fees on future housing developments to help pay for the increased requirement of schools to keep the standards and not caused over-crowding?
I think some local jurisdictions already do this, especially in rapidly-developing areas where new housing means lots of new students who will require new school buildings.
Question from :
What state has the most effective way to finance schools that could be replicated. Ohio’s system is abysmal.
I don’t think there is a single answer to this question. Every state’s political and economic situation is unique, so each state has to find its own solutions, though it can look for ideas in other states.
Question from Bonita DeAmicis, Teacher, Highlands Elementary:
In California, Ouchi, advisor on education to Riordan, recommended modeling the educational finance system after a Canadian system where the money starts at the school site and the school determines what services they require from the district and such. I found this to be an excellent model for making sure the money gets to priority needs in the classroom, but many principals responded negatively to it. Why would some principals prefer the finances be dictated to them from the district or state?
You’re referring to what’s called “weighted student budgeting.” It’s a system where funding follows students and is based on their specific needs. This is a big departure from typical finance systems which allocate staff or dollars more generally and where the money goes to school distrcts. In the United States, weighted student budgeting has been attempted in only a few places, Houston and Seattle among them.
Weighted student budgeting implies major changes for principals and others in our school systems. Like many aspects of “new” school finance systems that better link dollars and learning, this one asks principals to expand their scope of financial responsibilities, link resource and performance information at the school, make financial investments to address performance challenges, and evaluate the effect of their investments. These tasks are outside the normal training our principals receive, though they’re embedded in new expectations we have for principals and schools.
It may be that the resistance you’ve encountered is based on the novelty of the tasks associated with this funding strategy. Change is hard, and it takes time to learn how to make best use of a new system. If this is the problem you’re encountering, it indicates that we must accompany changes in our finance systems with changes in professional development, pre-service training, mentorship, and induction practices to ensure that principals and others have the skills required to put these new systems in place--no matter how broad the change--and that they and their staffs can make the best use of new systems to address the student performance challenges at their schools. I’d encourage you to find out the exact cause of the negative response you’ve encounter, so that you can understand and address it specifically. Then share the information with others. We could all benefit from it.
Comment from Paolo DeMaria, Assoc. Supr. for School Finance, Ohio:
Re building level data, you might want to refer interested folks to the tool recently posted by the Annenberg Institute that guides people through the process of analyzing building level data and making informed decisions about building level budget. Cincinnati serves as an example for this. Marguerite Roza played a big role in its development.
Question from Paolo DeMaria, Assoc. Supt. for School Finance, Ohio:
I really liked the use of the “percent of total taxable resources spent on education.” It fits nicely with some of the concepts in David Osborne’s “The Price of Government.” Has anyone looked at this indicator over time to see if we are, nationally, at a peak or valley, and whether, over time, this number tends to self-correct toward a particular point?
Thanks! We haven’t looked this indicator over an extensive period of time, but over the last few years we have seen some growth. Keep in mind, though, that the latest data we have available for calculating this indicator is from the 2001-02 school year. I would expect that we will see a little fluctuation in the next couple of years as a reflection of the economy during that time.
Question from Chris Barncard, education reporter, Kenosha (Wis.) News:
Wisconsin caps the amount of revenue school districts can collect, but bases next year’s cap on how much you levied this year. In a sense this penalizes districts by removing flexibility from future budgets if you choose to levy less than the maximum this year. Is this arrangement typical among states that limit the revenue districts can collect?
I don’t think Wisconsin’s method is typical, but of course, the states have many different ways of limiting taxes. We found, actually, that 33 states have some method for limiting these taxes, so it is quite common.
Question from Colleen Ramsey, student, Cornell University:
What is your response to the vast research, spearheaded by Coleman in his famous report, that says the amount of money a school receives does not make a difference in student achievement?
Drawing on decades of research following up on the Coleman findings, I think researchers today would have a more nuanced view. Most would say that money CAN make a difference, but often decisions about education funding haven’t been linked to the objective of improving student performance, so money is frequently spent ineffectively. As researchers develop more sophisticated statistical techniques and have access to better data than Coleman had, they are also beginning to see links between spending and achievement that weren’t evident before. You might take a look at the work Eric Hanushek and his colleagues are doing with a very rich panel data set available in Texas for examples of such linkages.
Question from Kathleen Thomas/Magdalene Habitat:
When you talk about establishing data, how do you intend to verify the data. Here in Texas, we’ve already had a huge scandal about the falsification of data in the schools, and a federal judge has found the the state agency, TEA, has what it called a “mere paper-compliance monitoring system” in Angel G v TEA.
We found that 22 states and the District of Columbia are able to collect financial information down to the school level -- but the quality and use of that data vary greatly. Some states, like Florida, report the information extensively on their websites, but in other states it is more of an accounting practice and not very useful. Also, you raise a good point that if the schools are not doing a good job of reporting the information accurately, it is useless. The collection of accurate school-level data is going to really be the next step states need to take to know whether they are spending their dollars efficiently.
Question from Karen Y. Palasek, Economist & Policy Analyst, John Locke FoundationAnalyst:
Discussing alternative methods of financing schools is a popular focus right now, but doesn’t it presume that quality and amount or method of funding public schools go hand in hand? Shouldn’t the question be focused on what produces a quality education, given what private and home schools have been able to do with far less money per student than the public schools typically spend?
I think alternative methods of financing schools is a hot topic right now precisely because people are waking up to the idea that we need to better link decisions about school funding to the goal of improving student performance. Until fairly recently, school funding decisions were viewed as technical issues separate from decisions about educational objectives and accomplishments. We still don’t have all the answers about what produces a quality education, but at least that is where much of the school finance debate is now focused.
Question from Paolo DeMaria, Assoc. Supt. for School Finance, Ohio:
Have any of the states that have implemented what some might call comprehensive funding responses to a court order seen significant improvement in student achievement?
We have a story in Quality Counts that looks at the results of the Abbott case in New Jersey. Although there have been some slight gains in achievement in some of the plaintiff districts, the effect of the case is still not clear. You might also want to look at some other states that have implemented court-mandated reform such as Kentucky, Vermont, or Wyoming.
Question from Debra Walker, Vice Chair, Monroe County School Board:
The Florida School Boards Association recently organized a task force to investigate the meaning of “adequate provision” for a “high quality system of free public schools”. What are other organizations doing to define the true cost of public education?
This is one of three fundamental questions for school finance these days: how much does it take to get the job done? (The other two questions ask whether we’re using our current funds effectively, and how we can raise stable and fair revenues).
The bottom line now is that we don’t have a good, technical answer to this question. Instead we have a handful of methods to estimate the cost of an adequate education--adequate provision, in your case. These methods variously rely on the judgment of educators, the example of successful schools or districts, research-proven interventions, or statistical analyses of the relationship between expenditures and academic performance. These “technologies” are better now than they were five years ago; I expect that they’re not as good as the methods we’ll have five years from now. Quality Counts 2005 does a nice job summarizing and illustrating these issues.
I’d suggest that you take a look at a sample of the reports that states have commissioned on the cost of adequacy. You’ll be able to see what costs are estimated, the assumptions that underlie the analyses, and the range of answers we get from the different methods. You’ll see patterns of cost factors, which will give you a good starting point in asking questions about your own state.
The important contribution of these studies is that they specifically attempt to link the cost of education to student learning. So an important part of the process is understanding exactly what learning outcomes we want to support. And given the state of the technology these days, I think it’s also prudent to estimate costs using different methods.
No matter how good our costing-out technology gets, however, given the range of responsibilities of our state legislators--the range of state services that must be funded--we are unlikely to reach a point where school funding is entirely a technical affair. We’ll still need to rely on the policy judgments of elected officials. The task for us now is to develop methods that help them make those calls, and methods that help us all accomplish the ambitious performance goals that states and the federal government have articulated.
Question from Rebekah Zelman, social studies teacher, Bergenfield H.S.:
How can legislators expect local school districts to make AYP when the legislators themselves are considering caps to school budgets, and state funding will not be increased? Shouldn’t this scenario be rethought?
Certainly it is challenging trying to meeting rising AYP expectations when budgets are flat. But before pushing to rethink the scenario I believe educators need to be sure they are making the very best use possible of the resources they already have. In all kinds of work, people often find that when resources are tight but performance has to improve, they discover all kinds of ways they could use resources in more effective ways.
Question from Joan Lambert, parent:
Washington State voters recently rejected a 1 cent increase to the sales tax for increased education funding. Washington has no state income tax. Are there any sources of revenue other than income tax, sales tax, property taxes and lottery proceeds (and U.S. goverment monies) that have been used successfully by other states to fund K-12 education?
Most states do rely heavily on the taxes you mention to fund education. Other states dedicate some smaller taxes or fees to education, but they are not huge sources of revenue. Fourteen states have gaming taxes or taxes on alcohol or tobacco products (“sin taxes”) dedicated at least in part to education. Also, Nevada is kind of an anomaly, they get over a third of their state general fund revenue from gaming taxes, which is far more than most states.
Question from Dr. Comfort Okpala, Coordinator of Research & Assessment, Shaw University, Raleigh, NC.:
With an increase in the number of adequacy lawsuits, do you see any relationship between winning adequacy lawsuits and increased funding?
I don’t think there is any doubt that funding is higher than it otherwise would have been in states where there have been successful adequacy lawsuits. Another result is that the balance of funding between state and local sources tends to shift toward a heavier state role.
Question from Claudia Haas, San FranciscoUSD, Staff Development Specialist (teacher coach):
Governor Schwarzenegger proposed merit pay for teachers. My question is: How come National Board Certified Teachers like me who have gone through a rigorous, voluntary professional development program and demonstrated to have met stringent national standards do not get merit pay? In fact, it’s taken away from us. CA eliminated a $10K award promised to teachers who achieve National Board Certification and it claims that it wants quality teachers...
what criteria will be used to determine who gets merit pay? WHO will decide who gets more pay?
In looking at state merit-pay plans, we found that they are really in their infancy, and still have some drawbacks. Current teachers affected by these plans might feel like guinea pigs as states figure out the best way to implement a more effective teacher compensation system than the single salary schedule. Anecdotally, I have also heard that teacher and school rewards are typically the first to go in tough economic times, so that has also come into play over the last couple of years. We found that the states implementing these programs are using teacher knowledge and skill in the classroom, or student test scores to decide who gets the advanced pay.
Question from Kathleen Thomas, Counselor, Magdalene Habitat:
Rather than finding ways of producing more funding, would it not be more effective to find ways of using the funding we have more efficiently? For example, in Conroe Independent School District, Montgomery County, Tx, the District has spent over $1 Million in the past year or so paying one attorney to attend ARD Committee Meetings and handle legal defense of parental suits under IDEA. Texas Education Agency can’t account for over a billion in grant money. Our grandparents learned in one-room schoolhouses, without computers. They learned the basics, plus Latin and Greek, and some medicine. Of course, it was learn or die, then. We do too much educating and not enough teaching.
I absolutely agree that schools need to take seriously the challenge of using their available funds more efficiently. There are many ways that this might be done (see the CED report called “Investing in Learning” at www.ced.org) It may also be necessary to provide additional funding, at least for some schools and districts, to enable them to meet the educational standards being set for them, but using existing funds more effectively is also key.
Question from Dr. Forrest E. Watson, Founder, Eagle Academies of Texas:
Is it safe to say that most school finance state efforts will be to put more money into the existing traditional system?
It may be safe to say that that’s our starting point. But the standards and accountabiliy movement, No Child Left Behind, and adequacy decisions in state courts are forcing us to look for alternative means of funding schools. The big question today is how to fund schools to accomplish ambitious student performance goals.
Existing school finance systems have been developed to address the distributinal equity concerns that dominated law and policy from the 1960s to the 1980s. Law and policy today are different; they ask us to accomplish higher levels of student achievement for all students. In short, we need finance systems today that help us get results.
Existing school finance systems are a resource for us, insofar as they represent allocation systems that we can adapt to today’s needs. But we’ll have to redesign them to support our performance expectations. Primarily this means two things: first, using resources to motivate and to build the capacity of teachers and students to accomplish new goals; second, distributing resources in ways that allows schools the flexibility to address their unique performance challenges.
We’re headed into a time of experimentation and learning, and we need to share what’s we’re doing and learning with each other to move ahead effectively.
Question from Carole Gile, William Penn University:
What is the costs of testing, and what is the increase over costs before NCLB?
We found that 14 states have studied the costs of NCLB, and the estimates for what it will actually cost to implement vary greatly. We did a story on this issue for the report.
Question from Sonja Dziedzic, Teacher, Emerson Middle School:
Why is it appropriate for politicians (federal, state and local) to run on platforms of “no new taxes” when (specifically in regions like the Chicagoland area of Illinois) tax caps have long since created a predicament in which schools MUST go to referendum to increase local funding. This leaves the average voter saying,” I’m not voting for this referendum for the schools...they said no new taxes at election time!!!” It also leaves schools ill funded. (Illinois)
Well this also raises an important point, that of the 33 states with some type of limit on these taxes, 18 have a provision that the local voters can override the limit.
Question from Scott Piepho, parent and activist, King School Elementary, Akron Ohio:
Here in Ohio one of our biggest challenges is losing money to charter schools. Charter school advocates like to speak in the language of economists -- the discipline of the market breeding efficiency, etc. But they do not acknowledge that, in economic terms, a fragmented market tends to be less efficient. That is, a school system will have acheived economies of scale such that a public school system plus a bunch of charters is going to be less efficient (and cost more) than a public school system alone. Has anyone done any research about the added costs of mixing charters into a school system?
I don’t think it’s clear that a mixture of traditional and charter schools (all of which are “public schools”) will more inefficient than traditional schools alone. In England, EVERY school is like a charter school in that the schools (not local educational authorities or LEAs) get the public funding. The schools decide what services they want to buy from the LEA, what services they want to buy from an alternative provider (presumably because the alternative provider is cheaper and/or higher quality), or what services they want to do without. There are various ways to accomplish economies of scale, apart from just being part of a traditional district. And, in the current structure where American schools have no choice but to use the services the districts provide, it’s not always clear that the district has incentives to be efficient in its operations.
Question from Margaret Livingston, guide/teacher, Magdalene Habitat:
We are here as a group to listen to the chat. Do you think that it might be wiser to have money specialists deal with money issues while the teachers make decisions about teaching issues? At the local schools, the teachers often disagree with the administrator “educators” and are forced to comply with things they believe are unlawful, but have to do with making sure the money goes where the administrators want it to go--like not assigning a one-to-one aide when a child obviously needs one. Administrators say the money isn’t there, because they want it for something else. It’s there for the football bus, or the massuese. So when we discuss finance, how can we avoid these issues as well? Somebody has to mind the store. We can’t just keep throwing money at them, if they are just throwing it, too. Because they are not necessarily thowing it in the right place. Isn’t that true?
If we’re going to develop finance systems that do a better job supporting student learning, then “money specialists” and teachers need to work together. That’s the only way we’re going to allocate and use resources effectively to accomplish the academic goals that states and the federal government have articulated. After all, the “money” job now is to support effective instruction. And we need information systems that help us do that by tracking resource use and student performance at the school level.
But the other issue you raise is equally important: we need to be transparent about all the uses of money in schools and school districts. It’s part of our public responsibility to show parents and taxpayers how we’re using money and how it addresses our student performance challenges. It’s fair to demonstrate that we are using the money we have effectively before we ask for more. It’s fair to demonstrate that our expenditures support learning in a context that demands better student achievement.
Since we’re in a transition period between “old” and “new” school finance, we should be talking to each other constantly about what we’ve “always done” with money, what we need to do now, what information we need in order to get the job done, and how we balance the range of expectations that the public holds for schools and school dollars. And, yes, we might even talk about “winners” and “losers” and how we handle that problem. An important part of this transition is to keep the “money specialists” and teachers and principals talking. That’s the only way we’ll make progress on this new agenda.
Lynn Olson (Moderator):
I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. Thanks for joining us today. A transcript of this chat will be posted shortly on edweek.org/chat.
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