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Trends in the News

School Money and Performance

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Learning Policy Institute, 5/21/19

Understanding school finance is one thing. Being effective in communicating about it is another skill entirely.

Most education leaders could do a lot better when it comes to talking effectively about education finance, especially if they hope to be convincing or inspire trust. Whether the topic is a state funding formula, a local tax levy, teacher salaries, or spending on athletics, emerging research spells out what works—and what doesn’t. Drawing from insights on this collective research, below are some headliner do’s and don’ts intended to build understanding and inspire trust: link the issue of finance to students, communicate with dollar amounts and acknowledge tradeoffs but avoid using business lingo, put any research in the local context, offer the public and those inside the system a means to weigh in on financial decisions, and involve principals—either as messengers or in the message; they are the most trusted people in the education system.

Education Week, 6/4/19

Big disconnect between how much money K-12 gets and how fairly it’s spent

The most recent analysis from the Education Week Research Center shows that the nation as a whole and many individual states are doing a far better job on the equity side of the equation than they are on the sheer spending side of things. The analysis, based on four measures of overall spending and four equity metrics, gives the nation a grade of C this year in school finance, with a score of 74.9 out of 100 possible points. That’s up 0.5 points since last year. Still, nearly half the states (24) finish with grades between C-minus and D-minus. And the scores are significantly higher on funding equity for the nation as a whole (B-plus or 86.8) than they are for spending alone (D or 63.0). Vermont (C+) and Alaska (C) are the only states to receive grades below B-minus for equity, but 25 states get F grades for spending.

Education Week, 5/7/19

Limited impact so far from ESSA’s school-spending data

School district leaders in 2016 were seemingly apocalyptic once they realized that a tiny provision buried in the Every Student Succeeds Act would by summer 2020 require them to report to the public how they divvy up funds among their schools. But in at least 13 states where education departments have in the past two months started reporting school-by-school spending amounts a year ahead of schedule…most of those administrators’ fears have yet to come to fruition. So far, with exceptions such as New York state and North Carolina, there’s been little media coverage of spending disparities between schools, and few school boards appear to be using the numbers to craft their budgets for the coming school year. “I hope that the numbers will be used to drive conversations about inequities and the way we resource and fund our schools,” said Ary Amerikaner of the Education Trust. “For that to happen, the data needs to be reported in a way that’s understandable, usable, and widely distributed.”

Also see this related article, The coming storm for financial transparency.

Education Week, 4/24/19

One superintendent’s approach to pragmatic, sustainable tech leadership

Across sectors, adopting new technology is the easy part. Much more difficult is implementing those tools smartly, learning how to use them well, taking care of them over time, and evaluating whether they’re actually effective. When the former consistently happens, but the latter does not, people are bound to roll their eyes at promises that “innovation” will bring about dramatic improvements. Six months after becoming superintendent, Doug Brubaker began rolling out a new, community-driven strategic-planning process. It culminated last year with Fort Smith voters approving their first tax hike to support public schools in more than three decades. Included in the new millage proposal: $825,000 a year in recurring, reliable funding to expand the Chromebook initiative and make sure the devices can be refreshed every four years.

Education Week, 5/7/19

Oregon teachers plan walkout to push for classroom funding

Tens of thousands of teachers are expected to walk out across Oregon this week, adding to the string of nationwide protests over class sizes and education funding. Schools around the state, including Oregon’s largest district, Portland Public Schools, will close for at least part of Wednesday as educators press for more money from lawmakers. Oregon schools have some of the highest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the United States. Districts have just one librarian, or none at all, fewer than the recommended number of counselors and been forced to cut programs like physical education and music. But unlike other states, Oregon teachers want to make it clear they’re not pushing for pay raises or other union demands. They say they’re walking out to highlight the conditions inside the classroom and how years of lower funding has affected children’s learning opportunities.

Education Week, 4/30/19

Which states have the highest and lowest teacher salaries?

The National Education Association has released its annual analysis of teacher salaries. The national average public school teacher salary for 2017-18 was $60,477—a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year. NEA estimates that the national average salary for the 2018-19 school year is $61,730—a 2.1 increase from the prior school year. But there’s a wide discrepancy between states. New York, California, and Massachusetts retained their spots at the top of the list, while Mississippi and West Virginia stayed at the bottom of the rankings. These rankings do not account for regional cost-of-living differences. Last year, an analysis from NPR and EdBuild showed that the rankings changed when cost of living is taken into account—for instance, New York dropped to No. 17 on the list.

EdSurge, 4/20/19

What does your school schedule say about equity? More than you think.

When Hoover High School…began building the next year’s master schedule, school leaders discovered something concerning. Some of the students who needed extra support—English learners, special-education students, and others in need of academic interventions—were more likely to be scheduled in larger classes with less experienced teachers. To systematically address these inequities, decision-makers must understand the processes that create them. Increased funding alone will not address endemic achievement gaps, because equity is more than just a fiscal or pedagogical challenge; it is also an operational one. A school’s schedule…dictates fundamental elements of the student experience: the teachers and peers they interact with throughout the day, the size and composition of their classes, their access to additional supports and services, and whether or not they take courses and electives aligned with their interests, graduation or college entry requirements.

Education Week, 4/26/19

Districts swamped by cost of hard-fought teacher contracts

Amid the teacher strikes and activism that roiled the nation last fall, school districts in California, Colorado, and Washington signed labor contracts they now say they cannot afford. In order to avoid budget deficits as a result of negotiated increases in teacher salaries and overall school spending, administrators in districts as large as Los Angeles and as small as Puyallup, Wash., say they will have to lay off hundreds of teachers and central office staff, increase class sizes, shutter after-school programs, and take other actions they warn will have devastating academic effects for years to come. The impacts are immediate and severe in some cases. Denver has laid off more than 150 central office staff positions to free up more than $17 million to pay for teacher pay raises negotiated in February. A county audit in Los Angeles says that the district risks insolvency after it signed a contract to end a six-day strike in January. That district will ask voters this June to raise their taxes by $500 million annually for 12 years to bail them out.

The 74 Million, 3/27/20

Roza: DeVos proposed $50 million for districts to decentralize federal money, to put schools in the driver’s seat. It’s a smart idea.

A provision that could bring more autonomy to schools in how they serve their most vulnerable students has been largely overlooked — $50 million in incentive grants for districts to decentralize their federal dollars to schools. At issue is whether school leaders and staff can have a say in how federal resources are used in their buildings for their students. Under the status quo, the heavy red tape attached to federal dollars presumes a top-down approach to spending decisions in which district leaders make all the programming and staffing decisions for schools. This process virtually erases school leaders from playing a role in decisions on how best to use the federal money in their buildings. The budget proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would reverse that through a pilot program for up to 10 decentralized districts that would send federal dollars directly to schools, putting principals and teachers in the driver’s seat on how to spend those dollars.

CRPE, 4/1/19

Sustaining improvement after state takeovers: Lessons from New Orleans

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana’s Recovery School District took over responsibility for most of New Orleans’ public schools. In 2018 the state takeover came to an end. For the first time since Katrina, nearly all of the city’s public schools are in the hands of the Orleans Parish School Board. CRPE set out to understand how the return to local control has shaped the trajectory of education in the city, with an eye toward implications for other states and localities facing similar transitions. The wholesale changes that occurred in New Orleans likely could not have happened without state intervention. For other localities worried about sustaining systemic transformations after takeovers end, New Orleans offers key lessons in how proactive policymaking can create a bulwark that safeguards school autonomy and other key features of the reforms and underscores the value of deliberate transfers of knowledge and talent.