Archive for the ‘school finance reform’ Category

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.

When Are Things Bad?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Think 21st century. The reputation of a public school district depends on where it’s located and the money available. Think of a particular school district in a particular state, any state. Here is a q & a to help establish a rep.

Does it snow in the winter? Students need light and heat. Don’t cut into the cost of electricity. That’s all the U.S. has right now.

Hot in the spring and fall? Everyone wants air-conditioning.

Does the school have a lot of high-income kids or only low-income? Parents want kids to have their own textbooks-either way. Don’t save money by sharing books.

Are a lot of kids packed in each classroom? Have schools been closed and kids stuffed into another school? Parents and students want smaller class size and more teachers.

Do students live far from the school? How far before the school district cuts the busing cost? In some urban areas, students walk or ride bikes; in far off rural districts students just don’t attend, creating drop-out and graduation problems.

Has the school been known for music and sports? Parents and students don’t like those programs to be cut. They will pay fees, raise funds for instruments and uniforms, and drive (with their own insurance costs) to provide these activities, but don’t cut the teachers and coaches.

Have custodians been laid off in the district? And the teachers told to sweep and empty waste baskets? Who do you think does the work? Clue: instructional minutes in the school day. As services are cut, this has long been an exercise in elementary schools. Now middle and high schools.

How long has the school had librarians, nurses, and uniformed security personnel? Are their services being cut?

Has the school district cut the equipment and teachers who provide computer training? Computers are part of the 21st century world. Every graduate needs to have some skill with electronic equipment. Not every student has a computer, cell phone, or Internet service at home.  Or the family income to support it.

Have vocational programs and teachers been cut from the school district? Not every graduate will attend college.

Have counselors, special education teachers, and tutors been cut or eliminated from the school district? Are the services continually on the edge?  Mental health and special education are the most difficult services to maintain and upgrade in a school district.

Look up Texas, New York, and California to see how each of these states have financially chomped up parts of school districts. Forget about test scores, standards, and evaluation. Just look at the school infrastructure.