While last year’s teacher walkouts were focused primarily on stagnant wages and crumbling classrooms, the strike demands now are more far-reaching. Teachers are pushing back against education reform policies such as charter schools and performance-based pay. They’re also fighting for social-justice initiatives like sanctuary protections for undocumented students. Although some experts say there’s a risk of losing public support as teachers become more political in their demands, the strikes so far have retained community involvement and have all been relatively successful. Even as the protests move from red states to blue cities, there is still a coherent narrative in place: Teachers are underpaid, asked to do more with less, and fed up.
By preparing high-performing teachers to support their peers, Leading Educators is seeking to disrupt the multibillion-dollar professional development industry — one that research has repeatedly found “ineffective in supporting changes in teachers’ practices and student learning,” according to a study from the Learning Policy Institute… At roughly $880 per teacher, the program costs dramatically less than the $12,598 per teacher that a 2015 TNTP study conservatively estimated that large districts spend on traditional professional development… “I think we’re in a place and time where we as a field have realized we are not going to fire our way to improvement or recruit our way to improvement,” he said. “Of the 3.5 million teachers who are already teaching in the classroom, how are we helping create improvements in skill?”
Across Colorado, an increasingly affluent state which boasts powerful job growth and one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the country, public K-12 systems are in deep trouble. Collectively, officials say, Colorado’s 178 school districts have more than $14 billion in infrastructure needs. Spending per student is well below the national average of approximately $12,500 — even below Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico, which in 2017 posted the nation’s highest poverty rates. Budget shortfalls have stalled teacher pay and forced more than half of all districts to put one or more schools on a four-day week, the largest proportion in the country. Some of the pressures can be traced to the Great Recession, when Colorado, like many states, slashed K-12 funding. The effects lingered. Over the past several years, however, Colorado’s economy has rebounded and boomed. Tax-adverse voters have not responded. They have repeatedly rejected attempts to raise levies to prop up underfunded school districts, including $1.6 billion statewide initiative in 2018 that would have helped districts cover escalating operating expenses.
As venture capitalists and private-equity firms continue to invest billions of dollars in education, they’re increasingly directing their funds to early childhood development, a long-neglected subset of the education population. Since 2016, government spending on early childhood programs has increased 17 percent and private capital has risen 12 percent, according to a panel of impact investors at SXSW EDU. On a larger scale, federal funding has grown 62 percent in the last decade…and state funding for preschools alone has increased 47 percent in the last five years.
In order to meet ESSA’s requirement that they calculate and report how much gets spent in each school, state and local officials have had to separate out overhead and classroom costs, an arduous, months-long process. Several states had to purchase new school finance software or rejigger existing school finance software in order to figure out new categories of spending. According to an analysis by Edunomics, a school finance think tank at Georgetown University, at least 14 states now have published school-by-school spending amounts. Using this data, state lawmakers in New York and Georgia already have used the school spending amounts as a tool to scrutinize how districts spend a growing pot of state funds. That process has been politically contentious.
The Trump administration is looking to decrease the Education Department’s funding by $7.1 billion compared to what it was given last year, as part of next year’s proposed budget. The budget proposal suggests eliminating 29 programs, including after-school and summer programs for students in high-poverty areas, among other things. The budget proposal is unlikely to pass through Congress – especially with Democrats in control of the House, however, it is a glimpse into the Trump administration’s priorities going into the next fiscal year. The proposed budget includes DeVos’ school choice platform by asking for an increase in $60 million for the Charters Schools Program. The budget also requests $700 million for school safety measures from multiple agencies, including the Education Department, the Justice Department and Health and Human Services.
The Ballmer Group, created by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie, has quietly committed more than a quarter-billion dollars to K-12-related organizations and projects over the last two years. The flow of money includes more than $100 million granted to organizations working to improve opportunities for children and families in poverty, as well as a $59 million investment in a for-profit software company seeking to ease the flow of student data between K-12 school districts and nonprofits. The Ballmer Group’s known activity to date primarily reflects a “wraparound approach” to education, said Sarah Reckhow, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University. It emphasizes the community context in which children grow up, and it relies heavily on people with extensive experience in the social-services field and deep roots in the communities where grants are being awarded.
Among the most popular ideas that Democratic presidential candidates campaign for is a tuition-free higher education. In a new Atlantic Argument, writer Adam Harris explains that while this is an intriguing idea, it is also a vague and sweeping one, and voters want policy specifics. “The nuts and bolts of education proposals in the 2020 election,” Harris says, “are critical to understanding whether or not, six years from now, the student-debt bubble reaches $2.5 trillion, or even $3 trillion.”
After announcing last month that it would cut more than 150 administrative positions from its administrative staff, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has begun the process. The cuts will direct $17 million toward raising pay for district employees and teachers — who went on strike in February to demand higher salaries — and additional funds will go to special education services. Many blame inflated district administrations for suppressing teachers’ pay. Some critics say there aren’t too many administrators, and that these figures don’t make up a significant percentage of employees in public school districts. Additionally, others argue there are reasons for any growth in number of administrators. For one thing, if it wasn’t for these staff members, the tasks they complete would fall on the shoulders of faculty members.
The American Federation of Teachers, the 1.7 million-member teachers union, announced a major education initiative Monday aimed at pressing lawmakers in state capitals and Congress to increase funding for public schools and universities. The initiative, Fund Our Future, focuses on the fact that 25 states spend less on K-12 than they did before the Great Recession in 2008 and 41 states spend less on higher education. It calls on state lawmakers to prioritize education and higher education spending, especially for the most disadvantaged students, including students of color, students with disabilities and those still learning English.