A bill to create a watch system for monitoring school districts’ financial health would punish schools that are truly struggling— and some school officials say it goes too far. House Bill 1315 would strip power from elected school boards, limit how often they can meet and allow state officials to revoke a superintendent’s license if the district is in hot financial water for too long.
The Baltimore school board on Tuesday approved broad changes to the way city schools are funded, allowing money to be allotted based largely on student poverty levels rather than standardized test scores. The new formula will send more money to many schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, enabling principals to pay for psychologists, tutoring services or other tools that could better serve children in need.
After fixed costs such as already-negotiated increases in benefits, state-required pension payments, and special-education placements, Pennsylvania school officials say there’s little wiggle room. An Inquirer and Daily News analysis based on data from the state and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found that on average, about 85 percent of all costs for the state’s 500 school districts are set before budget hearings even begin.
Gov. Scott Walker is backing a plan — similar to one he recently vetoed — to let some school districts raise property taxes without voter approval to pay for programs and services. The proposal would affect so-called “low revenue” school districts — those that spend less than most others.
A year ago, Indianapolis Public Schools embarked on a radical change: Instead of patching together school budgets based on each school’s programs and challenges, district leaders decided to distribute money through a clear formula based on students’ needs. The overarching principle was that schools with many poor students should get more from the district than schools with middle-class students — and that principals should get to decide how that money is spent.
It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.
These formulas often attempt to account for state and district revenue and anticipated differences among districts. What they cannot always account for, however, is how districts might respond to different incentives. In these often complex funding models, states aim to strike a balance between giving localities some control while maintaining enough control at the state level to ensure all students can access a quality education.
Now the department is acknowledging that it erred in two calculations that financially affected school districts statewide — one on how much to reimburse for full-day kindergarten programs and another in how much it would pay districts for online charter school students.
“Because special education services must be funded regardless of whether there is sufficient state or federal funding to cover the costs in their entirety, the dollars needed to cover the shortfall actually come from the general operating budgets of schools,” the report says. And that means a shortfall of $459 for every pupil in the state.
The junk-rated Chicago Board of Education completed an up-sized bond sale on Thursday with a pricing that indicated an easing in the municipal market penalty the district has been forced to pay due to its deep financial problems.