Archive for the ‘school finance reform’ Category

High and Low

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
a desert high school with undocumented students

a desert high school with undocumented students

Since the last Take Care Schools post, the new tax legislation, signed into law by the president on December 23, 2017, is on the highest shelf of the “to-worry-about” list for every teacher, administrator, and parent with a child or children in public school – from pre-school to college.

Above all, lowering state, sales, and local tax deductions to $10,000 remained in the legislation. Since tax money is what state and local communities deploy to fund schools, this change in revenue in high or low tax states will lead to unfortunate choices for education, transportation, and public safety. In other words, according to the GOP, lower taxes per worker means more money in his/her paycheck, but if state and local budget choices must be made because of lower tax revenue, some of those jobs may disappear. Will that work? Let’s see.

Those well-to-do enough, and who prefer private school education, can deduct up to $10,000 from taxes to 529 college savings plans, which now can be used for K-12 private and parochial fees, and they can deduct donations made to school voucher projects organized by the state. All these loopholes help wealthy taxpayers, but not the public schools.

Also, separate legislation to change aspects of the latest Every Students Succeeds Act, sends $253 million in grants to expand charter schools with the Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter School Program. While it’s true that some charter schools have excellent models that support children who need a different approach to learning, only $52 million (just one-fifth!) of the funds are to reach 17 non-profit charter management organizations for replication and expansion of high quality programs. For example, Environmental Charter, Fortune School of Education, and Voices College-bound Language Academics in California, plus others across the country.

In addition, the Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce are rewriting the law that protected higher education students from for-profit predatory colleges’ loan repayments for useless degrees. Two Obama law regulations called assurance of “gainful employment” and “borrower defense” will be repealed and blocked from re-adoption. Other benefits for colleges and obstacles to for-profit colleges are being revised also. See “Education Bill Sweeps Away Obama Rules” by Erica L. Green, New York Times, December 13, 2017.

Consider the 365,000 high school students and the 241,000 college students of the 1.2 million eligible Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA)  who came into this country with their undocumented parents. The president has left it up to Congress to consider a bill by March 5, 2018, or up to 800,000 will be subject to deportation, including twenty thousand teachers. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, to replace the teachers will cost at a minimum $350 million to school districts and local taxpayers.

Recall that the Supreme Court of the United States, 35 years ago in Plyler v Doe said the State can’t deny free public education to any student residing in the country, citizen or undocumented. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) of 2017, establishing the right to residency for children, by Durbin and Lindsey Graham – SB 1615/HR3440 – is supported by 86% of Americans, including ¾ of the most conservative GOP in a survey by ABC News/Washington Post on November 17, 2017.

Last and not least, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been given funds until mid-January, but it must be re-authorized to support the children at the lowest level of learning – early childhood education.

What can you do? Call and email your members of Congress – it’s helped before, so don’t let them get away with inaction. Reach for the high shelf and stoop to the lowest shelf to make DACA and CHIP happen. For the future ….


School Funds to Come and Go

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

California’s Governor Brown has released the Local Control Funding Formula for each school in the state beginning in fall 2013. The projections were devised after the passage of Proposition 30 in the November 2012 general elections. Criticism has already made the news, but no district will receive less funding from the state than it has received in 2012-13. Those keeping an eye on education issues see huge change from the constant cuts that made California budgets balance in the past ten years.

At the same time, school personnel over the entire country hold their breath until Friday, March 1. On that date the sequestration (literally, setting apart) of all federal funds will be teetering on the fence until Congress brings itself to compromise on a plan to raise revenue and cut spending over the following ten years.

The ominous state by state prognosis on sequestration for school funding comes from a graph laid out in Monday’s Washington Post. California, bigger than many countries, can expect a reduction of $87.6 million for elementary and secondary public education. To be sure the reader holds his throbbing temples, those millions mean a reduction of 1216 teachers’ jobs, reduction in services for 187,000 kids, and most important reduction in services to children with disabilities to 62.9 million.

Cross your fingers and wish that Congress finds a solution by March 1, even if the up or down vote comes at 11:59 February 28.

To understand the consequences, recall that a decade of dramatic decline in revenue led to California’s disinvestment in education. Public schools have been ill-equipped to cope with the challenge of a growing population and five years of recession. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act resources didn’t make up for the squeeze on schools. The assembly’s 2009 relaxation of spending restrictions on forty categorized programs until the 2014-15 school year didn’t make up the difference to programs needed to improve student success.

However, California passed Proposition 30, and a number of reports have identified the benefits for public schools. Most critics agree that the plan put out by the governor simplifies the funding stream by taking it away from the state’s dominance and giving local control. As the governor said in the February State of the State speech more money is directed to districts with larger numbers of low-income families and English Language Learners. The sunset date for mandated programs should be eliminated.

A major question remains. The state’s Local Control Funding Formula was based on all income received for schools. What will happen if federal monies are withdrawn?

Teachers will continue to teach, and the long term outcome for the state and the country depends on student achievement. Money has a role, but political battles over money do not lead to victory.

Teachers and Voters: Pay Attention

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Unless your school district makes it very clear once the board resorts to a bond election to get money for capital investment, the parent, teacher, and other community voters must pay attention.

A type of bond called “capital appreciation bond” has become the norm in many school districts in many states. California and Texas are two big users. This kind of funding tool takes the place of asking voters straight up for more taxes. Instead, with voter approval the bond is designed to borrow a large sum for new construction with the proviso of putting off the start of payback for ten or more years.

In this way the district could get money right away, for instance, to build an entire new school to cut down on overcrowding (which sounds terrific) and to put off repayment until many years down the road. Interest rates accrue, however, causing the bond to be repaid at more than ten times what was borrowed instead of two-three times what a normal bond measure asks for.

During the recession as schools crumbled, it seemed reasonable to build and rebuild right away in spite of the economy’s downturn because those buildings would be used for 50-60 years, far after the high repayments were complete. But, who makes the huge repayments? Future taxpayers, not the current voters. Who really benefits? Financial advisers to the school district, according to Bill Lockyear, California state treasurer.

Although school districts country-wide have promoted and are building with “capital appreciation bonds,” California has heard from its voters. Like the Michigan legislature that has banned such bond measures, Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) and Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) have sponsored Assembly Bill 182. The proposed bill is before the current assembly education committee for hearings and votes, ready to be passed by the legislature to regulate any future “capital appreciation bonds.”

A brief summary states Assembly Bill 182 would subject repayments to a maximum 25 year limit and total debt no more than four times the amount borrowed. Even so the problem is that many voters do not pay close attention to the costs until they open their exorbitant repayment notice. Most do not know what “capital appreciation bonds” are.

Even though the voter has always selected “yes” for a bond that addresses children’s school facilities that are falling apart, anger at the financial turmoil resulting in the state boils over.

How Large a Class?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Teachers, you know that you have to consider the quality and consequences of yearly testing, now that every teacher will be evaluated partly by student growth in proficiency. Next, class size as one of the components of judging a high quality teacher is up for debate.

In this election year’s squabbles about the value of different propositions to increase state revenues or not for public schools devastated by budget cuts, class size has been pronounced to be a magic bullet to reduce school budgets.

One national election candidate waves the issue of class size in the air as if that one aspect can solve the problem of student achievement, and, moreover, school budgets can be smaller! If you haven’t heard, the GOP candidate raised classroom size in 2003 and 2004 in Massachusetts, thereby reducing the number of teachers needed which allowed funds to be cut in the state school budget. Using the oft repeated trope that high quality teachers were more important to student learning, class size was the factor used to manufacture a balanced budget. This supposed triumph was trumpeted this past week at the Education Nation conference.

Slash investment to balance the budget? What’s the issue-saving money or improving student success?

In the New York Times on Friday, September 28, 2012 in the article “A Different Class Warfare,” one teacher quoted, “Come be in a classroom with fifth graders and tell me class size doesn’t matter.” How many of you teachers can remember teaching a classroom too full of students to provide consistent support to each no matter what high quality evaluation you received?

While the current administration wants changes that will turn around school systems in which students do poorly, high or low class size is one of a set of measures that must form a state’s complete plan to improve student success. Not a way to come up with money to balance a budget.

Whether conservative Will Dobbie and Roland Frye of Harvard or progressive Michelle Rhee, now head of Students First, list the qualities of a good teacher evaluation, similar traits highlight successful outcomes: frequent teacher feedback, analysis of data to plan curriculum, tutoring, more class time, and high expectations.

Both liberal and conservative education experts would agree ALL teachers need to be highly-qualified. But Take Care Schools doesn’t believe investment means squeezing a few more dollars through a thousand small cuts to state school budgets. Instead adequate funding for schools–decent facilities, strong administration, worthwhile testing tools, suitable class sizes-must be the top priority to escape the inequalities which hinder student achievement.

Dilemmas for California Schools

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Recent media news shared states’ compromises on tenure and dismissal of “poor” teachers, certainly a concern for low-performing schools.

small island high school

small island high school

These issues were reported as part of the talks on teacher evaluation outcomes. This week California newspapers are taking sides on the legislature’s Assembly Bill 5. This bill finally revises the Stull bill, longtime and out-of-date legislation that designated procedures for California teacher evaluation.

Like most evaluation legislation, this bill has pro and con appeal and a compromise position has not appeared. The bill was designed to take advantage of the United States Department of Education’s application for a “waiver” to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates for 100% student grade level proficiency on state-designated exams in reading and math by 2014.

Long time complaints about the inability to reach the NCLB goals have come up against the need to improve teacher, administrator, and school evaluation, including tenure and dismissal for poor performance.  The use of yearly state exam data for evaluation fingers a sore point.

Aside from local teacher evaluation controversy, the current U.S. government administration constantly attacks the year-old Congressional resistance to passage of proposals for state aid to provide jobs for laid-off teachers (and police and fire fighters) in order to stay on track to improve student academic success.

In addition, tuition tax credits and continued financing of Pell grants for college students is in danger of spending cuts. Government aid for college completion to prepare graduates to enter the job market with fewer horrendous debt burdens should be valued as an economic boost. Nevertheless, spending cuts to education are possible in the new year depending on the November election results.

In November in California, Prop 30, the tax initiative to benefit school budgets, dominates the news. In the meantime, however, legislators, teachers’ unions, and the public must confront the AB 5 bill.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) supports the bill’s “meaningful feedback to teachers to help them improve their craft.” San Francisco Chronicle, “Open Forum On Teacher Evaluation” by Eric Heins, August 24, 2012. The article stresses the wording in the bill to provide collaborative reform from teachers, administrators, and community. The evaluation process spelled out in the bill clears up the uncertainty and inconsistency in the earlier legislation and requires evaluation more than once a year.

The bill’s critics (New Teacher Project, Center for Future of Teaching and Learning, EdSource among many) reject the bill because it removes the requirement to use state student assessments as one measure of teacher performance.

While the state education superintendent, Tom Torlakson, insists the bill will be a successful application for a waiver, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education disagrees.

Just as the Obama administration continues to justify job proposals to help schools in spite of obstruction, the California state legislature must find a compromise (as 38 states have done) between the powerful CTA and multiple dedicated education groups to establish a satisfactory teacher-administration evaluation process.