Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The Education Law Center just issued a year-end round up of all the significant developments in school finance litigation for 2013. The Center indicates that the leading cases for the year are those out of Kansas and Washington. Cases in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, New York and Texas are nearing trial. California and Rhode Island have cases on appeal. South Carolina still awaits a decision from its supreme court and North Carolina is returning to the trial court, after a recent loss before its supreme court. More details on each here. Contrary to my worries a few years ago, the great recession slowed school finance litigation for a few years, but it did not end it. In fact, many courts and cases are pressing ahead and recapturing ground lost since 2008.
Monday, November 25, 2013
The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has released a report detailing the unequal effects of federal budget cuts on public schools. While all schools and states have suffered cuts, the cuts have been relatively minimal in some places and enormous in others. Federal Money, for instance, only makes up 5.4% of New York State's education budget, while it makes up 24.8 in Mississippi. Yet, because much of federal money in based on poverty, there are districts within New York that are more seriously affected as well; the rest are almost entirely unaffected. In short, flat across the board cuts have very disparate effects on schools. AASA's map below shows this drastic unevenness. Interestingly, those cuts have been most heavily felt in the heart of Republican party territory, the southeast, due to its high levels of poverty. (You will notice other isolated areas of concentrated impact going west. This is due to native american populations, for which the government allots special funding.) This map also demonstrates why progressive funding of concentrated poverty should be a bi-partisan agenda in Congress, as Republican states stand to benefit the most, but it is not.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
School Funding Versus Major League Baseball: The Braves Get a New Stadium While Students Get Fewer Teachers
Cobb County schools in Georgia are being asked to tighten their belts to the tune of $86 million at the exact same time as the County is committing to cough up $450 million to build the Atlanta Braves a new baseball stadium. Of course, leaders claim the new stadium is good for taxpayers, while the superintendent of schools is warning of the risk at which schools are being place. The newly approved school budget includes five furlough days for all school district employees, the loss of 182 teachers through attrition and a smaller central administration staff. Just to keep the pain this mild, the district had to pull $41 million from its rainy day emergency funding reserves. In doing so, its reserves dwindle to a level that only amounts to one month's basic operating budget.
The stadium funds will not, of course, come directly out of the schools' budget. Georgia's schools are funded by a combination of state appropriations and local real estate taxes reserved solely for schools. Supportors of the stadium claim that it will be funded solely by a special tax on the businesses around the stadium, but skeptics point out that there are not many business in the area and certainly not enough to raise $450 million. In other words, regular taxpayers will likely foot much of the bill. Slice it and spin it any way you want. In the end, Cobb County's elected leaders can find money for a baseball stadium, but they cannot find money for its students. Seems odd given that an adequate education is mandated under the state constitution and baseball is but a past time.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
A few commentators recently noticed how Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had changed the rules for distributing Title I funds (federal anti-poverty money). The major shift occurred when the district changed its standard for determining which schools are eligible to receive Title I money. Previously, a school had to enroll 40% low income students. In 2011, the requirement moved to 50%. As a result, about 24 schools in the district lost Title I funding. Commentators now claim that some schools were charterized or new charters sprung up because they could avoid this rule and seek other grants.
Getting to the bottom of the blame game and what is fair is difficult for the average observer because Title I's funding formulas are so complex. Title I money is distributed through no less than four formulas. Some factors are consistent across those formulas, but many key ones are not. (A full explanation of Title I's formulas is available here). For this post's purposes, it suffices to say that Congress sets one threshold for whether a district receives Title I funds, but once those funds get to the district, the district sets its own standards for which schools within the district receive funds. In other words, Congress funds districts, not schools. Districts fund schools.
Commentators, including Diane Ravitch, are blaming LAUSD and charter schools, which I can appreciate, because the district is the place where the effects are most directly controlled and felt. But the locus of the problem is that LAUSD is put in a compromised position of making tough choices between schools because Congress's has set such irrational standards for the distribution of funds to districts. As detailed in my article, The Congressional Failure to Enforce Equal Protection Through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress gives Title I funds to 90% of the school districts in the country because it sets the threshold for eligibility at a mere 2% in the county in which the district rests. Thus, LAUSD has fewer Title I dollars because Congress is sending money to places that do not have a poverty problem. Congress needs to bump up the eligibility requirements significantly and more heavily weight concentrated poverty in its future formulas.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Pennsylvania Charter School Reform Bill Proposes Lifting Enrollment Caps and Eliminating School Districts' Oversight
The Education Law Center of Philadelphia (ELC) is advocating against proposed charter school legislation that would lift charter school enrollment caps and shift oversight of charters from local school districts to universities. The proposal aligns with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to encourage charter school growth by making it easier to open charter schools. The Education Law Center agrees that lifting caps will increase charters’ enrollments—but at the cost of financially hobbling local school districts that have to pay those charters per-pupil fees and other costs. Uncontrolled charter school growth may in essence defund public school systems by increasing costs on already-lean school budgets to support them. Moreover, writes David Lapp of the Education Law Center, giving universities the power to authorize and oversee new charters, eliminates any accountability for charter schools to “equitably serv[e] a community’s vulnerable student populations, such as minority students, students with severe disabilities, students for whom English is a second language, students in deep poverty, students experiencing homelessness, or students in foster care.” Pennsylvania has 119,500 students enrolled in 176 charters throughout the state. Readers of this blog have followed the tumultuous year in Pennsylvania education on this blog here, here, and here. Those of us who work at universities might agree with Lapp that higher ed institutions do not have any special expertise or information to become good stewards of a state charter school system. Universities can build such systems, as Drexel and Temple are contemplating, but that too will have costs, particularly as higher ed institutions are themselves facing declining enrollments and tighter budgets. Read the Education Law Center’s paper here.
In recent days, a few high profile calls to focus on poverty and inequality, as opposed to education innovation and “reform,” have been issued. Tuesday, the New York Times ran a story, In Public Education, Edge Still Goes to Rich, that emphasized the fact that, while our nation proclaims to be the land of opportunity and that education is the gateway to that opportunity, our education system is rife with gross funding disparities. On average, we spend less per pupil in schools with high levels of student poverty than we do in schools with low levels of poverty. Similarly, we also allow poor states to fend for their selves. New York, for instance, spends more than twice as much per pupil as Tennessee.
Last week, everyone from an audience member watching an educational debate between Arne Duncan and Fredrick Hess to Diane Ravitch has charged the Department of Education with chasing a fool’s errand and taking poor kids along for the ride. The audience member charged Arne Duncan with policies that favor the advantaged over the disadvantaged. And Diane Ravitch has charged in her new book and in promotional events that there is no fundamental crisis in education that needs reform. Rather, we need to tackle poverty. Our other so called reforms are but a side show that undermines instead of improves education.
Two weeks ago, the Southern Education Foundation released its report on the growing levels of poverty in public schools and shrinking education budgets available to address it. Fortunately, the media gave the report substantial coverage for a week or so and the report has reverberated through the messaging of various other policy commentators. My post called it a wake-up call. If unaddressed, the diverging trends of poverty growth and budget shortfalls pose a fundamental threat to quality education.
The fact that these voices are joining in a chorus is good news. It is going to take a sustained and aggressive campaign to put poverty and equality back at the top of the agenda. For a couple of sessions of Congress, Representative Chaka Fattah, for instance, has introduced student bills of rights that would require equity as a condition of receiving federal education funds. As one of the sole advocates for equity in Congress, his efforts have yet to go any where.
At the local level, we are got mixed messages in the elections this week. In Colorado, the referendum to increase taxes for schools failed (which many consider a remedy for the state's currently constitutionally inadequate system). But in the New York City mayoral race, Bill de Blasio won. His platform called for stemming the charterization of public education and supporting the neediest rather than closing them.
Once could attempt to write off the loss in Colorado to the fact that voters had another option on the ballot that they approved--school construction funding--and that the tax increase had a few wrinkles in it. The voters did not know exactly what the money would be spent on, nor that all the money would necessarily stay with schools. The tax itself also would have instituted a graduated tax system rather than the flat one they had before. One could also discount the de Blasio win, as many other issues were on the table. But regardless of how one interprets these results, the chorus of voices reminding of us the core problem of inequality and poverty will have to grow for serious change to occur.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the South Carolina Supreme Court's failure to issue a final decision in the school finance case that has been on its docket since 2008. The case has been before the court so long that it reheard the case in September 2012. Based on the oral argument, three of the five justices appeared willing to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but two others were far less certain, if not adverse. Since early this spring, I have speculated that the hold-up in a final decision was related to the Court's attempt to reach consensus. In South Carolina, consensus might be especially important.
South Carolina's Supreme Court justices are elected by the legislature. A large percentage of justices are also former legislators. And South Carolina's legislature pays less respect to its governor and its courts than most other states. In that climate and given the enormity of school finance, a supreme court justice might question how seriously its legislature would take at 3-2 decision. A legislator might say: why not stall and wait till the odds change or we appoint a new justice who sees it our way?
My suspicion that a desire for a fourth or fifth vote was holding up the opinion was confirmed this week in a public hearing before the state's judicial merit selection commission. Before the commission, the Court's chief justice, Jean Toal, acknowledged that Court was "struggling" to decide the case. Even more poignantly, she stated that cases like the school funding case “take an awfully long time to try to speak with anything like one voice.” Also tied up in the delay may be the fact that an Associate Justice, Costa Pleicones, is running to take Toals' place as chief. His primary complaint: the lag time on deciding cases. The problem is that I had initially pegged Pleicones as the Justice who might be willing to go with the majority but was openly concerned about the wisdom of intervening in school finance. In other words, while he raises a valid general point about lagging decisions, but he may very well be the 4th vote that Toal is waiting on in the school finance case. Regardless, the question is whether unanimity or near unanimity is worth the cost?
The U.S. Supreme Court certainly saw it as being of the utmost importance in Brown v. Board of Education, as well as other decisions that followed. It believed the public would never accept integration if the Court itself was divided on the issue. School finance is not desegregation, but it does strike at the core function of local government and its biggest budget item. Thus, the stakes and the contentious surrounding it cannot be discounted. From this perspective, reaching for unanimity makes sense. On the other hand, if unanimity never comes, then each day wasted on unanimity was a day the Court abdicated its responsibility. A 3-2 decision serves students far better than no decision at all. Students do have rights and the law is what the majority—even if it is just a 3-2 majority--says it is, not what a hold out judge wants the law to be.
Monday, November 4, 2013
A new decision, Petrella v. Kansas, is out in the Kansas school finance litigation. The litigation has proceeded on dual tracks for some time. Adequacy claims have been litigated in the state court system, while other claims have proceeded in federal court. The state has sought to combine the litigation on various instances, but the courts have declined. The plaintiffs have been very careful in crafting their claims so as to prevent this consolidation.
This new decision is an attempt to undermine the earlier state litigation that had resulted in a liability find against the state. The state responded with a remedy that, among other things, included a cap on the funds that local districts could raise to support local education, with the theory being that this would further equity. A group of parents from a wealthier district then challenged that litigation in federal court arguing it violated various federal constitutional rights, including their fundamental right to direct and control the upbringing of their children. The district court previously dismissed their case for lack of standing, only to be reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 10th Circuit remanded and, last week, the district court issued its opinion addressing the legal theories in the case.
The Court held that the funding cap did not infringe on the parents’ fundamental rights. Those parents still have the right to control their children’s education as they see fit. For instance, they are free to withdraw their children from public school if they wish. The Supreme Court precedent creates a relatively narrow right and plaintiffs attempted to apply it far too broadly. In fact, if school funding remedies were deemed to impinge on parents’ fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children, almost every aspect of educational policy might do the same. The court also emphasized the Supreme Court’s holding in San Antonio v. Rodriguez, which had rejected school finance challenges as violating a fundamental right to education. The district court perceived the instant case as an ill-advised attempt to circumvent the more relevant holding and rationale in Rodriguez.
Finding no fundamental right, however, only rules out the application of strict scrutiny. The court found that the plaintiffs had still plead a case of unequal treatment, which was subject to rational basis review. The state had asked that the case be dismissed entirely, but the court found that the question of whether the state had a rational basis for it funding structure was not yet resolved and, thus, the case could proceed on this question. The court did, however, dismiss all the plaintiffs’ other claims.
As to the immediate school funding issues in Kansas, this decision is positive. It prevents third parties (ie, wealthy districts) from trying to impede school finance reform. On the broader horizon, I would note that there is/should be room to still bring certain narrow claims in federal court. For instance, if educational is a fundamental right under state law or students have a constitutional right to education under state law, federal equal protection should attach to that right. In other words, a state cannot extend fundamental or constitutional rights to students and then treat them unequally in regard to that right. Moreover, strict scrutiny should apply to that inequality. Often, the federal review would be applicative of bringing a state claim and, thus, would serve little purpose. But in those instances where state courts backtrack from enforcing rights or state legislatures refuse to comply, a federal claim would offer some benefit. The instant case does not directly implicate those types of claims, but it does amount to another case rejecting a Rodriguez work-around, which is implicitly problematic for my theory.
More on this school finance theory here.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
I had been avoiding posting on Colorado's upcoming vote on education funding until after the vote, but the state is increasingly becoming the focus of national attention. Next week, the state will vote on whether to make a huge additional investment in education--$950 million annually to be precise. The state legislature and governor have already approved the funding, but under Colorado law, citizens must also approve tax increases as well. The funding itself is obviously important, but a few other wrinkles add to the importance. First, this is coming on the heels of a state supreme court decision rejecting a school finance claim. Sometimes you can loose the battle in court, but win the larger war. Unfortunately, you can also win the court battle and loose the larger war. Second, charter schools and public school teachers--normally adversaries--are coming together to support this bill. Not only are they supporting it with votes, they are supporting it with big money from outside the state. Part of the lesson here is that when the pot of school funding is big enough, charters and public schools are not forced to fight over crumbs. Finally, Arne Duncan says that that the success of this bill would make Colorado “the educational model for every other state to follow.” Because this one liner seems to be all that is getting reported, it is not entirely clear why it is a model, but one has to assume he is referring to the wide-spread and bipartisan support of additional investments in education, which is what Duncan believes can happen with a federal pre-k bill.
Monday, October 28, 2013
For those who do not immediately recognize the name, Steve Morrison was a long time partner of Nelson Mullins, one of the most influential law firms in the South. But most know Steve not for his work representing paying clients, but for his pro bono work. Steve is near and dear to the hearts of school children in South Carolina and school funding advocates nationally because he devoted so much of his time over the past 15 years litigating a school finance case for free. I only had the good fortune to meet Steve a few times, but I was most impressed by his willingness to take on not just school finance, but race. School finance litigation can often devolve into no more than a debate over data. The state's motivations are not necessarily relevant. And, in some cases, beyond poverty, the demographics of the children may not be of explicit concern either.
Steve, however, just as recently as last year's arguments before the Supreme Court, insisted that race mattered. He did not charge a racial segregation case per se, but he insisted that that the story of South Carolina's poor schools was heavily intertwined with the state's history of segregated schools. He said that the state had condemned its poorest minority children to educational ghettos. He sent chills through the room as he levied this and other charges at the state. These are not the sort of arguments one would normally expect a white, male, esteemed partner in one of the South's most prominent firms. He was truly a remarkable man. His presence will be sorely missed. More details on Steve's life are available here.
William J. Mathis, Managing Directer of the National Education Policy Center, released a policy brief, Effective Educational Spending: Getting a Good Bang for Our Bucks, earlier this year that summarized effective educational spending as quickly and directly as I have seen. For the expert reader, the brief only touches the surface of various complex questions, but it provides a good starting point, particularly for people new to the field. Each year, I supervise any number student papers and law review notes dealing with school finance in one way or another. Because it is such a complex area and students often come to it with huge assumptions, Mathis's brief is a good place for them to start because it does not overwhelm them and focuses on basic.
Mathis says “[t]he public debate has shifted from does money matter to where money matters.” Most obviously, it matters in terms of "clean, adequate schools and learning supplies, qualified staff, and a 'well-organized climate.'" In terms of things likely to increase student outcomes, Mathis offers the following, non-exclusive set of policies, each of which he indicates rest on a strong body of research:
- Ameliorating negative effects of concentrated poverty;
- Providing high-quality early education;
- Engaging families continuously, including providing family, social and medical services;
- Providing enriched learning opportunities after school and over the summer;
- Providing high-quality full-day kindergarten;
- Reducing class size, particularly for grades k-3;
- Providing high-quality teachers; and
- Providing increased funding and program support for economically disadvantaged children and English language learners.
His full brief is available here. It is the 6th out of 10 briefs on the page.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Earlier this summer, I posted on a law enforcement analysis of why we should put more money into pre-k education as well a report by the Alliance for Education on the broader fiscal impacts of graduation rates. The Alliance has now turned its report into an interactive tool that allows viewers to parse out the effects based on local tax revenues, federal tax revenues, lost income, gross domestic product, home sales, jobs etc. The national effect of increasing our graduation rate to 90% would be to generate an additional $1.3 billion in federal tax revenues and $661 million in state an local taxes off of an additional $8.1 million in additional earnings by the graduates. I would assume, however, that those numbers would compound over time as the previous year's graduates stay in the market and are followed by new cohorts each year. It is not clear whether that effect is already cooked into the Alliance's data. If not, it needs to be. Regardless, the harder question is how much it would cost to increase our graduation rates to 90%. Right now, the federal government spends about $15 billion on primary and secondary schools (excluding the one time Race to the Top grants). Thus, the assumed additional tax gains would cover only about a 10% increase in federal education spending, although based on law enforcement's report, we might be able to double federal spending on education if we accounted for the savings we would generate from lowered crime and incarceration rates. But again, is that enough? Based on my rough sense of costing out studies performed in various states, that would probably get us close. A national costing-out study performed by DOE would certainly help close that knowledge gap.
The value/fun of this new tool, however, may be its local uses at the state and city level. I found that South Carolina is missing out on $18 million in taxes and the city of Columbia $3.5 million (based on $194 million and $37 million in additional incomes, respectively). Those sound like big numbers at the local level, although South Carolina's are proportionally bigger than many other states given how low our current graduation rates are.
Monday, October 21, 2013
I will have to admit I had not been following the litigation in Arizona over the state's failure to include inflation adjustments to education, but the state supreme court just delivered a huge win for education advocates. In 2000, voters passed a proposition to require the legislature to make annual inflation adjustments to the public education budget. That initiative had added strength because two years earlier the voters had approved a constitutional amendment that limited the legislature's ability to modify voter referenda. In recent years, however, the state has failed to increase education funding to keep pace with inflation. Plaintiffs brought suit under the prior legislation and constitutional amendment. The Arizona Supreme Court in Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey, 308 P.3d 1152 (2013), held that “(1) Arizona constitution did not preclude voters from enacting by referendum a statutory directive that limited legislature's plenary legislative power by requiring that annual state budgets include adjustments for inflation to base support levels for K–12 public schools; and (2) annual state budgets that failed to include adjustments for inflation to base support levels for public schools, as directed by a voter-approved referendum, violated the Voter Protection Act (VPA).”
The Southern Education Foundation's new report, A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and the Nation, is mind-boggling in its implications for the future of educational equity, educational quality, and integration. We have long known of the suburban-urban divide that stalled integration decades ago, as well as the flight of families with means to private schools. This new report shows that things have gotten worse, really worse. Throughout the south and much of the west, poor students are now the majority of enrolled students statewide. In Mississippi, an eye-popping 71% of public school students are poor. The north and midwest are still majority middle income, but only on a statewide basis. Thirty-eight of 50 states' city schools are majority poor.
This is a new phenomenon. It was not until 2007 that the south's schools become majority poor. The south and other states only crossed over into this territory as a result of enormous growth in poor students between 2001 and 2011. The south saw 33% growth in poor students, the west 31%, the midwest 40% and the northeast 21%. School funding has been woeful during this same period. As SEF's chart below reveals, the northeast is the only place where funding has kept pace with with the growth in the percentage of poor students (although this is not to say it has grown enough there either).
Based on these findings, I see four enormous problems. First, meaningful integration has become even less possible than before. If one accepts the dominant social science findings of the past several decades that attending a middle income school is a major predictor of success, these crucially import schools and districts are disappearing. In other words, there are fewer and fewer people with whom to integrate. Second, the political pressure against integration and for neighborhood schools is going to mount among those middle income families that remain. Although not often talked about, one of the key events in Wake County, North Carolina in the past few years was that it became majority poor. Thus, it is no surprise that this district, which had a long commitment to integration, has seen enormous tensions and took steps to undo integration. In short, Tea Partiers may have flamed the fire in Wake County, but tipping over into a majority poor district started the fire.
Third, funding for schools just became a lot more problematic because the important political base that would otherwise support it is no longer a majority. It has bled off into private schools and wants vouchers and tax breaks, both of which have seen rapid growth in just the past few years. Moreover, another significant chunk of middle income families has left or may leave for charter schools in hopes of isolating themselves at public expense. Either way, support for the traditional public school is in serious jeopardy.
Fourth, the public schools got dumped into a deep hole over the past decade. Most research indicates that poor children require 40% more funding than middle income children to receive an adequate education. Even if we assumed that 2001 levels of funding were adequate, the growth in funding since then has been insufficient to cover the cost of the additional poor children entering public school. But, of course, funding was not adequate in many, if not most, districts in 2001. Thus, school funding has gone from bad to awful.
I wish I could offer constructive thoughts on the way forward, but this report is just too much at the moment. It calls for nothing short of serious, crisis mode conversations about our commitment to public education that very few leaders are willing to have. After all, their constituents are already pursuing other options. A change of course will only occur if they take this report as seriously as I do.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
As noted earlier this week, the situation in Philadelphia's schools had descended into the chaos of a perfect storm. One would think that the Governor eventually would have had to act. The death of a 12 year old girl after a day at school where the nurse had been dismissed due to budget cuts is not the sort of thing a Governor wants to defend. Yesterday, Governor Corbett stepped up and released $45 million so that Philadelphia schools could rehire teachers and assign students back to their normal classrooms (some were apparently in split grade classrooms). A lot of credit goes to civil rights leaders from outside the state, like Wade Henderson, David Sciarra, Ben Jealous and Marc Morial, for putting the Philadelphia schools under a microscope and then shining a national spotlight on them. Once they did so, the Governor acted quicker than most.
This important victory, however, may be shortlived because the underlying problem remains untouched. Philadelphia, and several other districts in the state, are in this mess because the Governor abandoned the funding formula that Governor Rendell had enacted. Forty-seven other states in the country understand that school funding must be based on enrollments, demographics, and local costs (even if their formulas do not perfectly reflect these factors). Governor Corbett returned Pennsylvania to the dark ages of school funding when he abandoned Rendell's formula and appears content to stay there. For more discussion on the formula, see David Sciarra's essay from yesterday.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
North Carolina Supreme Court Battles over School Finance and Pre-K While South Carolina's Sits on the Sidelines
North Carolina’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in its school finance case over whether the state must fully fund its pre-k program. The case is slightly more complicated than average because the state argues that the pre-k program is like any other education initiative and the state is free to change its funding and rules as it sees fit. The plaintiffs counter that the pre-k program was enacted as a remedy to demonstrated violations of students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education. As such, the state is not fee to renege on its commitment. I suppose the court could skirt both frameworks and instead base its decision on whether the current system, without a fully funded pre-k program, fails to deliver a sound basic education, but I am not sure that question was fully briefed or argued.
Regardless, I would expect a decision within the next six months. The North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have been pretty good at moving school finance litigation through their dockets and to final decisions. The same cannot be said of their sister court to the south. The South Carolina Supreme Court issued its first decision in the Abbeville school finance litigation in 1999 and remanded for trial. The trial was completed in 2005 and made it back to the Supreme Court in 2008. The Supreme Court, however, let four years pass without issuing a decision and finally ordered rehearing, which was set for September 2012. We are now another 13 months past that second argument and five years past the first argument, leaving many to wonder how many generations will pass through the schools before a remedy, if it is to come, is ordered. November will be the 20 year anniversary of the commencement of the litigation.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Over the past few months, we have been blogging on multiple different forces undermining Philadelphia’s schools: budget cuts, school closures, and the loss of students to charter schools. Now add to that list the federal government shut-down, which puts certain education programs in jeopardy, and the death of a 12 year old girl after a full a day at school in which she was sick but unable to see a nurse because she was not on staff that day. Apparently, budget cuts had prompted the district to cut the nurse's work days back to two a week. The grief-stricken father blames his daughter's death on the budget cuts.
The situation has gotten so bad that national civil rights leaders came together on Friday in a united front to chastise the state for the chaos reigning in the Philadelphia schools, which is somewhat remarkable. The internal workings of individual school districts, even big ones, rarely garner the attention of multiple civil rights group. Wake County, North Carolina and Memphis, TN have gone through some of the most significant student assignment policies affecting integration in the country, with relatively little being said by national organizations. Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, however, remarked "Pennsylvania has become a national model of dysfunction in education." The immediate call by civil rights groups is to restore previously agreed upon funding levels to the schools.
A few short years ago, Governor Rendell had set the state on a trajectory of increased and progressive funding in the state, but the election of Tom Corbett lead to a reversal of those policies. But as suggested above, Philadelphia is at the center of a perfect storm that has included far more than budget cuts. Today’s budget cuts are just one more step along a very long path in
Derek recently wrote about the financial hits that St. Louis area schools are taking under Missouri’s new transfer law. Under the Missouri scheme, unaccredited school districts have to pay tuition and transportation costs for the 2,600 transferring students who have used the law so far. Recently, however, Missouri lawmakers are realizing that the law has an unanticipated cost—families are taking advantage of the student transfer option to establish residency in unaccredited districts then immediately transferring their children to accredited schools. These “bouncing” transfers can get students into higher-rated suburban schools that would be otherwise unavailable because of residency requirements. Nothing in the Missouri statute stops such “bouncing” transfers or caps the number of transfers that families can have in a school semester. Nor do students have to enroll or attend an unaccredited shool -- they just have to establish residence in that district. State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal told the St. Louis Beacon yesterday that the law allows families “to just move into an unaccredited district, then turn around right away and transfer elsewhere, [which] amounts to “educational larceny.” Lawmakers are finding it difficult to count how many families are using the loophole because of transience rate in city schools is already high. Sen. Chappelle-Nadal estimates that the unaccredited Normandy High School could run out of money by next March. Read more here.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Edsource.org recently released an interactive website that allows users to compare various major education metrics against one another (per pupil expenditures, teach salaries, student-to-teacher ratios, NAEP scores, etc.). It also compares the states against one another on scatter-plots and line graphs. Users can also track changes in the data across four decades. It is an incredibly powerful and efficient tool for those looking for basic data calculations and comparisons. It may be the most user friendly I have seen. For that reason, I am sure students will love it.
With that said, some of the underlying data calculations are relatively simplistic and do not fully account for geographic costs, student need, and other relavant local factors (although there is a per-capita income versus local spending chart). In this respect, the data can be misleading to the average observer. The most sophisticated analysis of school funding continues to be the Education Law Center and Rutgers Graduate School of Education's reports. Edsource.org, however, covers broader categories of data and, thus, using the ELC/RGSE reports in conjunction with this website could be helpful.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
At the start of the school year, I posted about the continuing expansion and rise in school fees and the constitutional problems they potentially present. Now comes a story out of Colorado noting the rise in the state's school fees and how unpaid fees can mount over time for some families. When those unpaid fees reach a certain level--$250--some schools are turning families over to a collection agency.
While I object to the fees in the first instance, I can appreciate the schools' frustration with people who can pay but just won't. After all, it is unfair for the costs of fees to be unevenly distributed. On the other hand, it is possible, if not likely, that many of these families are low-income or just struggling, even though they may not have formally been classified as such. Turning poor, or near-poor, families over to collection agencies for educational services that the state mandates they receive seems perverse, if not unconstitutional. The ACLU of Colorado is now pressing this latter point of whether the fees implemented by some local school districts violate the state's guarantee to a free education. Mark Silverstein of the ACLU said:"As far as I can tell, in Colorado the state constitution provides for a free public education, not a fee public education. It's almost as though some school districts got a flawed copy of the state constitution and the 'R' was missing." One parent laments that some children do not get to participate in extracurricular activities due to the fees: "It's getting to the point where it is going to separate the haves and have-nots, and that doesn't seem right to me." See more here.