The financial lives of college students and universities took center stage this year in ways few could imagine. Higher education captured the attention of Congress with the sweeping Republican tax plan, resulting in an unprecedented move on college endowments. State authorities tangled with the new administration over the rollback of rules governing federal financial aid. And the nascent tuition-free movement gained momentum as New York joined the cause. These are among the influential events that shaped the economics of higher education in 2017.
Some districts are addressing this problem in creative ways. Portland Public Schools in Oregon, for example, redistributes a portion of parent donations through an equity fund. Other districts, like Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, limit how parent donations can be spent. In theory, this puts the responsibility on the district to provide schools with equitable core resources, particularly around staffing. Neither policy appears to significantly affect the level of parent contributions. But they have not always gone over well, with some more affluent communities advocating to keep donations in their own schools.
The more interesting story in coal and oil-dependent states is how those states’ politicians and school leaders are attempting to reorganize their public school systems to better prepare students for careers outside traditional industries which once provided six-figure salaries. Many states are creating career tech training for students to work in technology fields or on new wind farms being built in the state.
After salaries, energy is the district’s second biggest line item in the budget. In 2008, the school district began identifying energy efficiency opportunities across its existing campuses as well as building those economies into new construction. Since prioritizing conservation, the district has averaged a 45 percent reduction in energy costs across the board, or about $6 million, a year.
For higher education, one of the major concerns is how the tax bill and other federal policies will impact state funding models and charitable giving. At the conference, policy experts discussed a number of state priorities which may impact both public and private institutions moving forward.
The most significant change for schools in the Republican tax reform plan is likely how state and local taxes are handled because of its potential impact on school funding. But why? And where could it have the greatest impact?
In 2017, we started thinking differently about the importance of high-quality preschool. We began talking about the boon to minority students of a more diverse teacher workforce. We questioned the country’s skyrocketing high school graduation rates. And we took a second look at system-wide reform efforts in historically dysfunctional school districts. We cover this sort of research, and these eye-opening charts, nearly every day at both The 74 and TopSheet, in a series we call “Big Picture.”
A long-awaited bill to overhaul the nation’s higher education law would change how students obtain federal student aid, place new limits on that financial aid, and eliminate current federal language governing teacher preparation, among other notable shifts.
Delaware: State Auditor Tom Wagner has pointed out one way to improve taxpayers’ trust in public schools: Overhaul the way spending is reported. In a report issued this week, Wagner says he tried to determine which districts are doing the best job of keeping funds in the classroom. But the current reporting system is used so inconsistently among the 19 school districts statewide that such an analysis is impossible, Wagner said.
Washington D.C.: Five other states have education savings account programs but all are restricted to certain groups of students, such as students with disabilities, or the children of military families. If the Cruz-Meadows measure becomes law, the District’s program would be the first to allow any K-12 student to enroll in private school with public money. (Nevada introduced an education savings account program in 2015 that would have been open to any child, but it was struck down by the courts.)