Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Think about what these cuts would mean to new charter schools that haven't been open long enough to build cash reserves. Charters scheduled to open next year may have a tough time balancing their budgets, and with no ability to raise additional revenue through taxes, I hate to think about schools delaying their opening.
In its meeting of December 16, the Executive Appropriations Committee adopted a base budget proposal that includes a 7.5 percent across-the-board reduction in the state budget for fiscal year 2008-09 and a 15 percent across-the-board reduction in the state budget for fiscal year 2009-10. All of these proposed budget reductions are in addition to the 3 percent reduction for FY2009-10 already adopted in the September special session. For public education, the proposed legislative budget is significantly different from the budget proposed earlier this month by Governor Huntsman. The Governor’s proposed budget holds public education harmless for the current fiscal year and limits cut for the coming year to about 4 percent.
I recommend that you carefully review the two budget proposals. Both the legislative base budget and the Governor’s budget proposal are available online.
I also urge you to begin to prepare for this range of possible cuts (for FY10, at least 3 percent, as high as 18 percent) As you consider implementation of a reduction in the current year, I remind you of the considerable flexibility available to you under 53A-17a-146 Reduction of district allocation based on insufficient revenue. The USOE will likely be asked to report to the Legislature the potential impact to districts and charter schools of cuts in the ranges noted above in both the current fiscal year and the next. Please begin preparing information relative to specific to cuts you will make in your programs and operations. The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee will meet at least twice in January prior to the beginning of the session, and the USOE could be asked to present as early as January 12. As soon as I receive a specific request for information from legislative leadership or staff, I will let you know what we’ll need.
Looking for the silver lining, I am pleased that when funding is reduced that schools get increased flexibility. That may help established charters and districts balance their budgets this year. I had worried and posted about this before, so I thank Dr. Shumway for pointing it out. (I'm sometimes hard on the establishment bureaucracy in these posts, so credit where it's due.)
Just like in Utah, cuts are coming for the current year, and more cuts are expected for next year. Also, the Minnesota Legislature wanted an across the board cut (a lot lower than ours, though), while their governor with potential national ambitions wants to prioritize and protect education.
Here's hoping that ed funding might be protected. I fully admit my bias here because current year reductions of the kind that the legislature has talked about would cripple new charter schools. New charters don't have the cash reserves that other charters have, or the ability to raise revenue in local taxes that districts do.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The SL Tribune article has charters heading the list of “winners” of $8.8 million if Rep Newbold’s equalization plan becomes law.
Larry Newton, Director USOE Finance & Statistics, has explained how the plan would work and it’s important to understand that the $8.8M is not new money to charters. The $8.8M will be used to offset the state income tax dollars that fund the Local Replacement Funding (LRF) line item in the MSP.
So far it doesn’t feel like negative press nor does it feel like we need a direct response to the article. We are working on generating media in early Jan about the association and this issue. For the time being, let’s help people to understand this point: the $8.8M will simply offset state funds charters already receive.
The bill would help to bring local parity to traditional students in districts like Alpine, Nebo and Davis who in recent years have not been receiving as much local dollars as the charter students in those districts.
The data that the SL Tribune reviewed shows charter schools getting $8.8 million from the proposed new law – this is more than any single district. There are details yet to fill in, but here are the highlights of how it would work.
ü Increase Basic Rate from .0013 to .0020, an increase of .0007.
ü The .0007 increase is anticipated to yield $154.7 million
ü The new money will be redistributed to districts (and charters) in an effort to bring poorer districts to a certain level. Richer districts will not receive any of this money AND contribute to the total by not seeing some portion of their full property tax revenue collection.
All charters combined are considered a district in this plan. Charters are allotted 5.7% of the total additional revenue which is $8.8M. This money goes directly to the LRF and offsets state income tax dollars.
Today the Trib reports that huge layoffs will be coming in Higher Ed, to the tune of hundreds of jobs.
I'm sure that the Board of Regents and the boards at each public university hate to trim teaching positions, especially when enrollment is up. But if you don't have the funding to staff at current levels, it really limits the choices that schools can make.
A Rasmussen poll of voters reveals 66% of them believe the teachers’ unions “are more interested in protecting their members’ jobs than in the quality of education.” Party identification has a surprisingly small effect on this belief, with 78% of Republicans holding it, 66% of independents and 55% of Democrats.
Apparently one-third of voters have difficulty wrapping their minds around the concept of teachers’ unions doing what teachers pay them to do.
Mike Jerman says:
Several charter school supporters have indicated support for “back pack” funding. Here some points to keep in mind based on information in the LFA’s "Minimum School Program: WPU Funding & The Impact of Moving Categorical Programs above the Line" dated November 20, 2008. I could not find a link to an online copy. The report has a good explanation on six types of categorical funding formulas.
Here’s a summary of the impacts of moving certain categorical items above the line. Two percentages are cited. First, is the LFA’s calculated impact which includes the existing WPU funding. The second (my number) excludes existing WPU funding in order to show the changes in categorical funding only.
1. By moving categorical items above the line, charters lose if the current categorical formula is "base + 1 - 2 - 3" in which each district and each charter currently get an equal base with the remaining appropriation based on WPUs, or ADM, enrollment etc.
Example: local discretionary block grant.
Loss to charter schools according to LFA: 0.12%
Loss after backing out existing WPU amount: 9.4%
2. Charters obviously win if items like transportation are moved above the line. This won’t happen.
3. Charters come out ahead if interventions for student success are moved above the line because the existing formula includes number of LEPs which currently benefits districts over charters (but also includes equal base amount).
Gain to charter schools according to LFA: 0.15%
Actual gain after backing out existing WPU amount: 17.8%
4. Charters break even if existing line item is based on WPU like social security/retirement.
5. Quality Teaching Block Grant is a little trickier. According to the LFA's calculations, charters would come out 0.29% ahead (7.7% if existing WPU amount were backed out) if this were moved above the line but the footnotes said that districts and charters with lower pupil-teacher ratios could lose since QTBG is 70% WPU and 30% teachers.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Arne Duncan is a terrific choice as Education Secretary. In Chicago, he’s built a nationwide reputation as a reformer who’s strongly supported public charter schools and other innovations geared to raising students’ academic performance.
As Education Secretary, Arne will continue to be a strong advocate for chartering and carry forward with President-elect Obama’s commitment to double the federal support for charter schools as a key component of his reform efforts. We expect that the Senate will confirm his nomination in short order and we look forward to working with him to lift the standards of education in every school.
I haven't yet done my own research, but this is a good sign. The danger is always going native once you get to Washington.
The recent situation with Mountainville Academy (full disclosure--a client of mine whose finances and non-instructional operations I manage) illustrates that perfectly. The school made a hard budget-based decision to reduce staff, which led to three teaching positions being eliminated. The affected teachers were asked to fill other open teaching positions in the school.
The move caught parents by surprise, and they let the school--and the media--know. KSL probably had the fairest version of the story. The tone at Fox seemed fine, but I couldn't get the video to play on my computer.
Many media outlets have gotten facts wrong as they rushed to cover the story. Too often, journalists get excited about the potential for conflict, and then create such conflict when they present opinion as fact. Some inaccuracies in media reports:
- Teachers were fired (No teachers have been fired. All are still employed at the school and all have been offered the chance to pursue other open teaching positions at the school if they choose, or accept a generous severance package if they choose to leave.)
- The board has no elected members (All of the members of the board are parents, two have sixth graders, and three were elected to their positions on the board by the school's parents.)
- Teachers were escorted from the building (simply not true)
- The board violated open meetings law (Again not true. The decisioin is consistent with existing board policy, the school's charter, and the board approved budget, all of which were adopted in open and public meetings. This action did not require a board vote.)
Also during the meeting last night, but after the media left, a spontaneous movement arose among parents to try and cover the budget deficit by raising the money among themselves. Only in charter schools could you find such commitment from parents, who have buy-in to the school's program and who have the ability to hold their boards and administrators directly accountable to them.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Why then do we continue to have policies that discourage such involvement? If we want parents to be more involved then we need to create policy incentives for it. Parents are more involved in charters because they have incentive to be so. They have the power to change governance, and ultimately their enrollment in the school, so they become more involved at all levels.
We need parents with some skin in the game at all schools. I am excited for Rep. Sumsion's ideas (that he spoke with me about when I was interim director at Renaissance Academy last year) for increasing the role of community councils and local control of schools. Let's hope it leads to real incentive, control, and involvement for parents to the benefit of children in school.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
In concept, this is a fine idea, but in application, the establishment is doing the wrong thing. Conceptually, more and more funding should be unrestricted. Putting more of the restricted, pet-project, politically-driven budget line items into the unrestricted MSP pots make a lot of sense and increase local control. But only this one? This is money that is earmarked to pay teachers. The establishment wants to take money from the "teachers only" pot and put it in the "up for grabs" pot.
One reason that the legislature adds so many strings and restrictions to funding they provide is that they don't trust bureaucrats to make (what the legislators think is) the right decision. Moves like this confirm that distrust. Legislators have long complained that even with massive increases to education funding in recent years, teacher compensation hasn't kept pace. That's why they earmarked and restricted salary adjustments in the last two years. And now the establishment comes back with "we want to use teacher bonus money to pay for something else."
So, while we should work in general to get strings removed and let local schools and districts, working with parents and education leaders, control how they use their funding to educate children, we shoulndn't just target teacher bonuses.
In fact, a real help given the budget crunch certainly coming in the next few years would be to unrestrict the reduced funding schools would get so they can use it more efficiently.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Still, the program is a little young to be called a sure success. I wish the Tribune would cite data instead of anecdotes when giving their support. If they want to convince the public to support such a program at the same time that others are trimmed by tens of millions of dollars, they sould have some actual facts to back themselves up.
Will Obama's SecEd be a reformer, or a lackey of the establishment?
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Theurer seems willing to let an otherwise solid proposal to bring a high school to a city desperate for one die because of the smallest of technicalities. State Board rule requires (wrongly, I believe) to notify local school districts of any request for expansion. Summit did, but then made a technical change to their request, and didn't notify the district as soon as the Board wanted.
Theurer places more faith in process than results. The rule is stupid anyway. Are districts required to inform charters before they think about opening or building a new school? It's a double standard that says charter schools are a lesser model of public school. They aren't. Parents should have just as much right to choose a charter school as any other public school, and districts do not have the right to limit that choice through bureaucratic technicality.
The One-time Performance-based Compensation Program (OTPBCP) was created in the 2008 General Session (53A-17a-148). The program appropriation of $20 million came from the non-lapsing minimum school program fund balance and was a “one-time” appropriation.
In its November meeting, the State Board of Education made recommendations regarding necessary budget reductions due to anticipated revenue shortfalls. Part of the Board’s recommendation was that the $20 million appropriated in FY09 to the OTPBCP be reallocated to maintain as much of the Minimum School Program as possible in FY10 (or, if necessary, to maintain on-going programs in FY09). The Education Appropriations Subcommittee met on November 21 to discuss budget reductions. At that time, it was agreed that the timing of distribution of funds in the OTPBCP was at the discretion of the State Board and that it would be in the interest of all to delay distribution for the time being.
Yesterday Governor Huntsman announced his public education budget recommendations for FY10, as well as for the remainder of FY09. Though not explicitly stated in his budget, an underlying assumption that makes the numbers work is the reallocation the $20 million from the OTPBCP to maintain the on-going elements of the Minimum School Program.
This change to the budget will require legislative action, so none of the recommendations above mean final action. However, given current budget concerns, the USOE will delay distribution of the OTPBCP funds until further notice. Because the program was intended to pay performance “bonuses” at the end of the year, this delay in the distribution of funds should have no immediate effect.
I'll translate his bureaucrat-speak: The legislature gave schools $20 million to reward teachers for performance. The establishment doesn't like the plan and wants to use the money for something else. They wrote something asking permission to use it for something else. So, they're not gonna let schools get the money to keep their promises to employees.
One of the real problems that public education faces is the inability to reward its top performing employees. That will always lead to mediocrity as the best employees and those with the greatest potential leave the industry. Performance Pay is one of the most important programs that public education has gotten in the last decade. Let's hope that the legislature defends its programs and holds schools accountable for using it as intended.
Friday, December 5, 2008
GOP Radio Takes on ‘Educrats’No doubt this is related to editorials and news stories about Stephenson's interaction with USOE.
Republican Red Meat Radio Saturday morning takes on “mismanagement and deceit in Utah Public Education,” hosted by Sen. Howard Stephenson. This special show, entitled "Stupid in Utah: How the Utah State Office of Education hurts kids and teachers," focuses on “the subversive acts to overturn the legislature's education reforms by the bloated 500-plus employee organization and will give specific examples of how too many career bureaucrats don't give a damn about the law, education improvement, or providing teachers the tools they need to do their jobs.” Stephenson said he will show “case-by-case how the educrats work to prevent money from reaching the classroom and how they try to punish the most qualified and highest performing classroom teachers.”
According to the Tribune, Huntsman calls for "no pay raises for teachers" and "no increases" to education funding. There would actually lower funding, since one-time programs would lapse, and about $150 in ongoing funding would be replaced by one-time "rainy day" funds. That reduces the pain in the short term, but then may be just delaying the inevitable if the economy doesn't rebound quickly.
In a much less detailed way, the DNews calls this non-renewal of one-time funding a "three to four percent cut." And that it is, but schools shouldn't see a reduction to their bottom line because the programs funded by such money will also go away.
The legislature will ultimately decide public ed's budget. The governor largely followed recommendations from the superintendent's association, without, thankfully, any mention of freezing charter school growth, their cockamamie idea that would actually increase cost for public schools.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
In fact, www.utaheducationfacts.com is an wonderful resource. Check it out and you'll find a wide range of information about schools, all organized and designed for easy access and understanding. One of the most entertaining parts of the site is a video that clearly shows why such a website is necessary--people just don't know much about public education. Parents may be involved in the school and love their teacher, but people at large don't know much about funding, structure, or results.
In fact, much of what we "know" about public education is really a collection of myths. (Best segment of the video: "How much does it cost to attend a charter school?" Check it out, the range of answers is amusing.)
Hopefully, this will educate the public, and especially journalists and policy makers about the facts of our public education system. Only when we can all agree on reality can we make real progress on improvement.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
It's not quite like this in Utah. We have a fair amount of public school choice in theory. Charters add a wide range of choices, but because few communities have more than one charter, it's hard to give most families a real range of choices.
It doesn't have to be that way. There's nothing standing in the way of innovation in public schools, except the will to do it.
This stifled innovation and punished successful schools who had sustained excellence, but not "progress" as defined by NCLB.
Today the Daily Herald argues, in the face of the Feds' refusal to allow Utah schools' use of computer adaptive testing, that the federal government should stop using NCLB as a "cudgel." "Washington just isn't suited for running education at the local and state level."
Monday, December 1, 2008
- Mathematics Education: there may be some funding available (if any funding is availble for anything) for schools to purchase new math curriculum
- Performance-based Coimpensation: addressed in an earlier post, Senator Stephenson is one who would like this to be an ongoing appropriation. The establishment has this program on its list of cuts they would accept
- School Funding Sources: There may be a move, again, to equalize local funding for schools. This hasn't gone anywhere in the past, but I believe a tight budget might be the right environment for something like this to pass, so legislators can pass the task of raising taxes to local districts
Florez calls for the reform of education's governance structure before new money or new programs are thrown at the problem, which he correctly points out hasn't improved education in decades. He asks, "Where does the buck stop?"
That's really the key question and problem. The buck should stop at local schools, and if it doesn't, parents should be able to find and attend a different school that does stop bucks. The legislature should provide the tools, and then, by empowering parents, hold schools accountable for results.