Saturday, January 31, 2009
Excelsior Academy's Board of Trustees and Director, Ernie Nix, along with the school's builder and architect turned fresh ground in Erda, just north of Tooele on Saturday.
Future students at Excelsior also took their turn with the shovels.
Excelsior Academy will serve 648 students from grades K-8 when it opens this August.
But schools have to be pleased at the apparent small size of the budget cuts agreed for this year. Rather than the 7.5 percent that many schools had feared and prepared for just two weeks ago, today's Tribune reports that the cuts will be only about 1.5% That number is much more manageable, though some schools will still face tough decisions and people may face uncomfortable reductions.
Rumors still have next year's potential cuts at up to 15 percent. Obviously, the state can't give to schools money they don't have, but just as schools prioritize different programs and staff to protect what is most important, state lawmakers should also prioritize education highly and protect it to the degree they can.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Utah's education laws and rules should encourage the kind of innovation and excellence that has been demonstrated across the country.
See story in the DNews.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
- HB96 by C. Watkins: Would allow charters a second chance to opt into the state retirement system.
- HB230 by L. Fowlke: Would require districts and charters to give teachers credit for time they worked out of state or at other schools within the state.
- HB242 by L. Black: Would move up the date for Kindergarten enrollment from September to July so kids would be a few months older to start Kindergarten.
- Gage Froerer has a bill called "Charter School Governance Amendments," but it isn't yet public.
Friday, January 23, 2009
This is what I hoped and nervously predicted would happen, so I'm pleased, especially for charters who won't need to make the most drastic cuts that were presented as possibilities last week.
See stories in the Tribune and DNews.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
2:32—I wanted to get a sense from this meeting where the legislature stood on funding cuts, and it’s clear that this committee, and the Executive Appropriations committee will recommend to the houses of the legislature a 7.5% cut. That’s bad news. The governor doesn’t want such a large cut for this year, and that’s maybe some good news, though he’s not at this meeting, nor is a representative of his office.
2:42—Senator Morgan asks if this proposal includes any rainy day funds for this. The answer is no, but with a wrinkle that was helpful to know. Stephenson explains further: this committee was given a charge from Exec approps to cut 7.5% from the budget, and that if the cuts could be made less, what priorities are there for restoration. This committee doesn’t have the power to consider rainy day funds or any other revenue. He further explains that schools have flexibility, that it doesn’t matter what section we put it in. (So why continue with discussion of what programs to protect or prioritize?)
2:45—Morgan wants to recommend that the ExecApprops committee use rainy day funds to ease the cuts for education this year.
2:47—Brad Last says that the use of rainy day funds is under discussion, and that’s the next debate the legislature will have. I revise my statement from above about their desire to cut 7.5%. I think it is extremely unlikely that cuts would be that high, and that rainy day funds will be used at some level to protect education funding.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
What if a district or school had said such a thing? "We want to make sure to cut services and instruction to students before we cut administration and bureaucrats that file paperwork and do reports to other bureaucrats."
But no one on the committee asked her about it.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
While Utah's government is cutting back to balance its budget and avoid deficits, the feds have no caution about their own. That may help schools in the short term, and here's hoping that it won't cripple the economy and the dollar past that.
While there was no merit to the allegations, there is an important lesson to learn. When parents lack information, they will fill in blanks with assumptions based on the relationships they have. If there is not a productive relationship with the board and administration, parents will assume as fact what they hear from others. There will always be the disgruntled (no charter can please all of the people all of the time) and those few can have a powerful impact on how the school is perceived if there is not a conscious and ongoing effort from the board and administration to build proactive, open, and trusting relationships with all parents.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
- "The original legislation creating charters allocated separate state funding to pay operating costs." This is simply not true. Instead of just taking districts' word for it, reporters may want to actually read the law. The original legislation required districts to contribute half of every charter student's allotment of locally raised taxes. Meaning the districts got to keep half of the property taxes for students they no longer educated.
- "It's time to figure out just how much charter schools cost and whether they're worth the money." The data is already out there. Either the Trib doesn't want to look or doesn't like the results. At least two legislative studies have been done, as well as in depth studies by the Utah Foundation and every year by the Utah Taxpayers' Association. Studies show that when considering taxes from all sources, charter students receive less than district students, and that for less money established charters outperform established district schools.
- "Advocates and critics of charter schools disagree over whether they are more expensive than traditional public schools." They only disagree when one side ignores the clear evidence that's out there and starts making stuff up. Charter students take fewer tax dollars to educate, in part because they are excluded from several programs.
- "Charters generally offer smaller classes, making the cost per student higher." Half right. Charters do generally offer smaller classes, but not because they spend more per student--they just spend more per student on instruction. Districts spend much more per student on non-instruction (administration and support staff).
- "Right now, there is not enough information to know which is true." Not so. The information is there, but the districts haven't given that information to the Trib, which won't do its own work, so they all just ignore it.
But let's not stifle the growth and innovation based on ignorance. Calls for a moratorium on charter growth ignore the clear facts and impose a penalty (on Utah students most of all--especially the thousands already on charter waiting lists) for a crime that doesn't exist.
I believe that the rule requiring 25 percent of a charter's governing board to be parents, and that one of those parents must be elected, is unnecessary. It also conflicts with the spirit and language of the statute authorizing charter schools. That conflict leads to a limitation on the innovative approaches that charters can take regarding school governance.
According to the legislative commissioned study on charter schools from 2006, 75 percent of the members of charter school boards in Utah are parents of students at the school. The majority of Utah charter schools have board members that are entirely made up of parents at the school. The State Board rule is a solution in search of a problem. Parents are well represented in the governance of charter schools.
In statute, one purpose of charter schools is to increase parental involvement. This rule is a clumsy and ineffective attempt to define the kind of involvement that charters should have. But this attempt ignores another statutory purpose of charter schools, namely to establish new models of schools and new forms of accountability. The board’s rule on board structure essentially says, “We want charters to establish new models of schools and accountability, as long as your model looks like the one we want.” If innovation is a mission of the charter school movement in Utah, we must allow that innovation to also include school governance.
While the vast majority of Utah schools include parents (and most boards are exclusively parents) in their governance, many schools outside of Utah have had success with boards that do not include parents, but include professional educators, business leaders, and other experts. Is there not room in Utah for successful models like this? Is the favored structure of the state board the only structure that can have the effect of increasing parental involvement?
Evidence from around the country makes it clear that many different models can be successful. Utah’s rules regarding charter school governance should allow for the new models of schools and accountability that are called for in statute
Friday, January 16, 2009
If the differences between parents and the school leadership aren't about conflicts with the law, but instead about differing judgments about what's best for the school, then the appropriate option for parents is to either work within the school structure to change things, or go to a school that operates more in line with their own vision.
But the main parent quoted in this story, even through it all, considers Monticello the best of her available options. Now that's something.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
"In KSL's view, the potential benefits of developing an effective program that rewards teachers for going the extra mile is an experiment worth pursuing."
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
First, the reduction is coming when the school is already more than halfway through the year. Half of the money schools were counting on has already been spent, and much more than half has been committed. Suddenly that 7.5% is more than 15%.
Second, schools are being told to "preserve teacher salaries and maintain current class sizes." Teacher salaries are usually the largest single part of a school's budget. If that remains untouchable (it certainly should be the priority to preserve) then the cuts can only come out of smaller parts of the budget. Debt service or facility payments make the second largest part of the budget, and those are pre-negotiated and set practically in stone.
Teacher salaries are about 30% of a school's budget
Facility costs are about 20%
Other untouchable admin (Principal, secretary, janitor) make up 5%
Equipment and curriculum have already been purchased for the year, for 10%
That's nearly 2/3 of the school's budget that can't be reduced. So, a 7.5% cut is more than doubled because we are over halfway through the year. That 15% can only be applied to about a third of the remaining expenses because of the reality of schools. That increases the effect of the reduction to 45%.
That's tough to make work.
It is my (Associate Superintendent Larry Shumway's) opinion that school districts and charter schools should anticipate a reduction in total state support of at least 4.5 percent in the current (2008-09) fiscal year. I believe that prudence requires that LEAs take immediate action toward implementation of a 4.5 percent reduction. I also believe that cuts of as much as 7.5 percent are not beyond the range of possibility. Of course, no cuts are official until the Legislature is in session and adopts the budget, but to wait any longer in the face of what I believe to be a certainty of reduction will only make the challenge greater.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Cutting budgets already spent is something else. If this article is correct and public schools take funding cuts of 7.5 percent for the current year, the changes would have to be drastic.
The legislative session won't end until March. By then the fiscal year will be 3/4 over, and the entire 7.5 percent cut will have to be implemented in the last two months of the school year. That's an equivalent of a 30% cut in funding for that final quarter of the year.
That's draconian. Obviously, if the state doesn't have the money it can't pass it on to schools and districts, but lawmakers should do all they can to protect students from such drastic reductions in the final months of this school year.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The idea that charter school students are more expensive to educate than students in district schools is ludicrously false, and demonstrably so. (See earlier post.)
But, no complaints about the media here. Kirsten Stewart of the Trib at least quotes Brian Allen (chair of the State Charter School Board) refuting the laughable claim and calling their political posturing what it is.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I'd like to focus on one line from the Trib article: "This year the state is spending $2,577 dollars per student, not including federal and local dollars."
That is wildly inaccurate. Regular state funding of public school students is almost $4,000, not including special programs like Special Ed, Reading Achivement, Gifted and Talented, and numerous other programs.
The Weighted Pupil Unit ($2,577) is only the base number that is applied to formulas and statistics in a variety of ways. In addition to receiving $2,577 for every student, public schools receive additional amounts for Social Security and Retirement, Administrative Costs, Class Size Reduction, several Block Grants, Professional Staff funding, and dozens of other state programs that are based on the number of students in schools.
here are dozens of state funding streams that use the WPU as a base multiplied by enrollment or other statistical factors. When all state funding streams are included, per student funding is well over $5,000 on average, though some students are funded more because of their demographics, educational needs, or geographic location.
Check out the current Allotment Memo for each school district and charter school in the state. Take a look at Granite School District, which begins on page 54. Their WPU funding (at $2,577 per student) totals $129 million. But their total state funding under the Minimum School Program is more than double that amount, $291 million. With federal funding and non-MSP state funding included, the total is $346 million. Local funding adds tens of millions more.
You can see that just from state funding for students in Granite district, is more than $5800 per student. That’s a difference of over 125 percent from the number stated in the Trib article.
Number one is from Alfie Kohn, the keynote speaker at last year's UEA convention.
"When the scores go up, it's not just meaningless. It's worrisome."
» Academy of Math, Engineering and Science
» Da Vinci Academy
» Mountainville Academy
» North Davis Preparatory Academy
» Renaissance Academy
» Walden School of Liberal Arts
A full list, including district schools, is here. Alpine school district had only one district school meet the standard, but had two charters. More than 10 percent of the qualifying schools are charters, even though charters only have about 6 percent of the student population in the state.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I like to think I should expect more from reporters. It is news when politicians and bureaucrats in a position of public trust make statements about freezing the growth of charter schools. That's a controversial statement that should be covered. Isn't it bigger news that the business administrator of the local school district (who should know school finance better than anyone in the county) has such a complete misunderstanding of how students are funded in Utah?
And shouldn't we be able to expect a reporter to drill a bit deeper in Rep. Mel Brown's statement that "There's no better time than when the economy is down to declare a moratorium; don't approve more charter schools." This shows the same tragic misunderstanding of school finance that is prevalent in the education establishment.
Charter school students cost taxpayers about $5500 each. Traditional public school students cost more than $7,000. When students attend charter schools, taxpayers save money. Here are some reasons why:
- Charter parents drive their students to school or carpool with neighbors, saving taxpayers the cost of buses, drivers, and gas--a savings of hundreds of dollars per student per year
- Charter parents usually provide their own lunches to their children, saving taxpayers the cost of school lunch, which is potentially hundreds of more per student per year
- Charter school buildings are built with private money, so no homeowner will see property taxes increase to build a charter school
- Charter schools usually spend much less on administrative overhead than school districts, meaning more money gets into classrooms
- Charters get hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government when they open. Utah would be losing out on that money if no more charters opened
It will be a fine day when bureaucrats and politicians put the interests of students above their own. Reporters can help us get there by understanding enough about the issues and people they cover that they don't just parrot the bias and misunderstanding of those who should know better as facts.