When charter schools expand, and more kids leave classrooms run by the School District of Philadelphia, it’s not as costly as previously estimated, although the total remains significant. That’s according to a much-anticipated report commissioned by the district in 2015, completed by the consultancy Afton Partners. Uri Monson, Chief Financial Officer for The School District of Philadelphia says in the district’s press release, “Some of the constraints that lead to stranded costs are partially controllable and can be mitigated with action by SDP, albeit via difficult actions such as layoffs and school closures. Continuing to grow and improve District-managed schools, and attracting students back to great schools near where they live, would also mitigate these fiscal challenges for the District.”
Schools with at least 51 percent Hispanic students saw 1.8 percent of their total budgets frozen, on average — that’s about twice the average rate of 0.9 percent frozen at schools with at least 51 percent of white students, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of the freezes. The schools that lost the highest percentage of their remaining spending power — 1.8 percent on average — also serve the very poorest children, where nine out of 10 students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch that is shorthand for school poverty.
What I found most noteworthy is how little we know, on a national basis, about how much is spent on special education and what connection any of that spending has to student outcomes. There were a series of reports that came out in the early 2000s on special education funding, and they can be found at the website of the Center for Special Education Finance/Special Education Expenditure Project. But all those reports were based on figures collected during the 1999-2000 school year. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how the state of special education funding has changed since then?
After relatively flat enrollment through the end of the 2000s, public K-12 enrollment started to tick up again in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ Digest of Education Statistics, 2014, the 50th in the series of annual and biennial reports compiling education data.
Because of the way the state funds schools, it can be especially tough when small schools lose students. Enrollment in Macon County schools remains higher than it was 10 or 12 years ago, but the district has lost some students to neighboring charter schools, according to Chris Baldwin, superintendent of Macon County Schools.
By 2015, “overload” pay shot up to $1.8 million – roughly 22 times as much as in 2011. School officials say it’s the result of a significant increase in overload pay written into the most recent union contract, negotiated in 2014, coupled with enrollment increases and difficulty filling some positions.
Nonetheless, Orleans Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. backed the proposal firmly, voting yes and issuing a joint statement with Recovery Superintendent Patrick Dobard. They said it was a matter not of school versus school or Recovery versus Orleans, but of ensuring basic fairness in how the city’s main stream of education money flows to children.
Any fair and equitable school system should have a funding policy that matches the financial resources each school receives to the specific needs of the students they are serving. But fully a quarter of our city’s charter schools receive the same flat funding amount regardless of the needs of the students with disabilities that they serve.
Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said during the meeting there needs to be more discussion in the Legislature about how enrollment growth is funded to account for fixed costs that aren’t directly affected. “I fully intend to fund it,” Hillyard said in an interview, noting public education needs are adding up quickly. “But we have to find a different way of looking at it.”