"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Why does the Post Dispatch Want More Funding for Education?

Where is education funding going?  To schools or bureaucrats?

There is an editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch this morning bemoaning the lack of money for education.  Here is an excerpt:

When St. Louis businessman Dave Spence, the Republican candidate for governor, visited the Post-Dispatch editorial board last month, he clearly had done his homework in one key area.

For months, this page has been arguing that Missouri's incredibly low rankings in terms of education funding are at the root of many of the state's ills, not the least of which is a moribund economy.

The numbers tell the story. Various rankings put the state among the lowest in the nation, somewhere between 45 and 47 in higher education funding. And while K-12 funding continues to slowly rise from year to year, it's not keeping pace either. National studies of education funding always put Missouri in the lowest third of states in the nation.

Mr. Spence agreed with us. But he offered not a single solution to the problem.

We asked, in as many ways as we could think of, how he would increase education funding, or even whether he definitely would commit to doing it. He said he'd find some efficiencies. Maybe. That's it.

The Post Dispatch consistently argues that the state needs more money for good education.  I ask in forums, on this blog and in conversations with others...why is that the STL city schools receive $16,000 per student and my district spends $12,000 per student, yet my district consistently scores much higher than the STL city school district?  Is the first response to educational reform and an increase in test scores answered by throwing more money at the current educational system?

I don't think it is and I suspect Mr. Spence doesn't think it is either.  Let's look at how much money has been spent on federal programs for education.  From Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation in "Reducing the Federal Footprint on Education and Empowering State and Local Leaders":

In fiscal year (FY) 2011, the federal government will spend nearly $25 billion on the more than 60 competitive grant programs and some 20 formula grant programs that currently fall under NCLB.[1] This wide range of programs strains school-level management as states and school districts must spend their time completing applications, monitoring federal program notices, and complying with federal reporting requirements.[2]
Demonstrating compliance with the numerous programs through which federal education funding flows has required significant work by state and local education agencies over the decades. According to a 1994 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the burden on states to comply with federal regulations caused states to hire 13,400 employees to oversee these programs. The GAO noted that in 1994, while just 7 percent of education funding was provided by the federal government, 41 percent of the paperwork burden imposed on states was due to compliance with federal regulation.[3]
No Child Left Behind, the eighth ESEA reauthorization, compounded this federal-compliance burden and further entrenched the role of Washington in education policy. Estimates from 2006 found that the new guidelines and regulations created by NCLB increased state and local education agencies’ annual paperwork burden by 6.7 million hours, at a cost of $141 million.[4] According to Representative John Kline (R–MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, the federal burden has continued to grow since that time. “States and school districts work 7.8 million hours each year collecting and disseminating information required under Title I of federal education law. Those hours cost more than $235 million. The burden is tremendous, and this is just one of many federal laws weighing down our schools.”[5]

One Virginia school district reported that “the cost of setting aside a single day to train the roughly 14,000 teachers in the division on the [NCLB’s] complex requirements is equivalent to the cost of hiring 72 additional teachers.”[6]

Representative Duncan Hunter (R–CA), chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, made similar observations:
Currently, the paperwork burden imposed by the Department of Education is larger than that of the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Justice. From 2002 to 2009, the Department of Education’s paperwork burden increased by an estimated 65 percent—an astounding number that continues to grow.
In addition to program compliance, states and school districts must monitor the numerous program regulations handed down from Washington. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance on K–12 education programs in more than 100 separate instances since NCLB was authorized in 2002.[7]
Washington’s ever-expanding role in education—evident most recently in No Child Left Behind—has been paralleled by a significant growth in non-teaching staff at the school level. Since the 1950s, the number of teachers as a percentage of school staff has declined from 70 percent to approximately 51 percent. Over the same time, administrative support staff increased from 23.8 percent to 30 percent.[8] In the mid-20th century, public schools employed 2.36 teachers for every non-teacher on their rolls; today, the ratio is closer to one-to-one.[9]

Moreover, the federal government is an inefficient provider of education funding; it filters taxpayer money from the states through the Department of Education, back down to state education agencies, and, ultimately, to local schools. Each step along the way diminishes the funds that are available to serve the needs of students. A 1998 estimate suggested that just 65 cents to 70 cents of every education dollar leaving Washington makes it into the classroom.[10]

Burke details how funding could be cut to many of the 150 federal education programs creating mandates for state agencies and local districts, control handed back to the states (although I didn't see a mention of the elimination of common core which is a concern) and how education could become more effective in terms of dollars and test scores.   She puts forth recommendations on education reform (read the article for the specifics on the A-Plus program):

Recommendations for National Policymakers
  • Allow states to opt out of federal K–12 programs authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and direct funding to the programs of their choice. Congress should give states more freedom in how federal education dollars are spent so that state and local leaders can use those resources in a way that will best serve student needs. The A-PLUS approach would create direct accountability to parents and taxpayers, aligning the incentives of states with the needs of families, not compliance with Washington. By allowing states to opt out of ESEA and consolidate the many federal programs operated under the law, state leaders would be able to direct funding to the most pressing education needs. It would also reduce federal red tape, limit the bureaucratic compliance burden and associated man hours and paperwork, ensure transparency, and provide direct accountability to parents and taxpayers.
  • Reduce the federal footprint in education by eliminating and consolidating programs. In conjunction with measures such as A-PLUS, federal policymakers should streamline the many programs operated through the Department of Education. Instead of funneling money to the states through more than 100 competitive and formula grant programs operated by the Education Department, federal policymakers should scale back the number of programs and consolidate funding among many others. The vast majority of competitive grant programs operated within the Department of Education should be eliminated,[25] and formula grant programs that are similarly structured should be subsumed under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In addition to the numerous competitive grant programs, there are also a handful of miscellaneous programs that should be eliminated entirely: the National Writing Project, Advanced Certification of Teachers, and Reading is Fundamental are a few examples of the miscellaneous ESEA programs that should be cut. These programs should not be under the purview of the federal government.
  • Simplify Title I and consolidate formula funding programs to better target funding to needy students. The Title I funding formula should be simplified using a set per-pupil allocation to ensure maximum funding reaches poor children, rather than diluting it due to formula complexity and administrative requirements. Many existing formula grant programs should be consolidated to more efficiently target funding to needy students. Eleven of 18 formula grant programs base funding on the number of low-income children in a state, similar to how Title I dollars are allocated. Following program elimination called for by the Obama Administration, these programs should be consolidated with Title I, and the formula should be simplified to ensure maximum funding reaches poor children.[26]

    Instead of requiring states to complete numerous applications for these federal funding streams, program consolidation would simplify state application to Washington for funding for disadvantaged student populations, reducing the paperwork burden. It could also mean a reduction in reporting requirements, further reducing the time local schools must devote to bureaucratic compliance, which could instead be spent on classroom instruction or time with students.
Congress should also permit states to make Title I funding portable, allowing funding to follow a child to the school of his parents’ choice—public, private, virtual, or otherwise.

Whether or not you agree with Burke's opinions, she makes a strong case that the Federal Government is mandating programs creating massive state debt.  Four decades of federal intervention hasn't moved test scores (they are stagnant) but it sure has decimated state budgets and created a bloated administrative bureaucratic level that is financially unsustainable.

If the Post Dispatch would get past the tired old mantra of "more money, more money, more money for education" and ask "why do we need more more money to pay for programs that don't work?" a serious and substantive  discussion could ensue and the start of real education reform could begin.

The Post writes:

We asked, in as many ways as we could think of, how he would increase education funding, or even whether he definitely would commit to doing it. He said he'd find some efficiencies. Maybe. That's it.

Maybe Mr. Spence could articulate some of the efficiencies noted in Ms. Burke's article.   I don't know why Missouri wants to spend more money for mandates voters never get to vote for while it's obvious the Federal government's educational mandated programs aren't working.

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