Archive for the 'School Finance' Category

November
24th 2014
Sticky Numbers: Making Sense of Dougco’s Pay System and Its Outcomes

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Accountability & School Finance & Teachers

Like Elmer’s glue, numbers get sticky when misused. And just like glue is tough (but fun!) to peel off your hands, it can take a little while to clear up sticky number messes. Yet clean them up we must, and so I dedicate today’s post to clearing up some numerical confusion surrounding Dougco’s pay-for-performance system.

The most recent illustration of sticky confusion in Dougco comes courtesy of comments on a recent Denver Post op-ed written by Doug Benevento, Vice President of the Douglas County Board of Education. Some of the comments are the typical anti-reform, pro-union rhetoric to which we’ve all sadly grown accustomed, but some others hint at some more systemic misunderstandings of the district’s pay structure and the numbers associated with it. Those need to be addressed.

The first big misunderstanding is DCSD’s actual turnover rate. One commenter accuses Benevento of “finagling” (great word) CDE’s official 17.28% teacher turnover figure to make the district look better. Yet it is CDE, not Benevento, doing the finaglin’. Continue Reading »

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October
31st 2014
Antonucci Reminds Us to Be Skeptical of Union Leaders’ Pleas to Change

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & School Finance & Teachers

From the spooky to the smile-inducing to the skeptical, welcome to Eddie’s roller coaster world of education policy commentary. Skeptical, you say? What am I talking about?

The article of the week for you to read comes from Education Next and America’s most well-informed and honest observer of all things related to the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, Mr. Mike Antonucci. He lays out the big story about teachers unions and the war within. Bringing nearly two decades of experience watching union leadership operate, he starts the article with this back-to-the-future comparison: Continue Reading »

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October
28th 2014
COSFP’s School Funding, Instruction Story Not So Spooky with All the Facts

Posted under Grades and Standards & Research & School Finance

Yesterday I shared a really interesting survey-based analysis by Dr. Martin West that strongly suggests the average American has a good handle on how well their local schools perform, but a lot less accurate picture of how well their local schools are funded.

On average, voters underestimate how much is spent per pupil by their local school districts, more than one-third less than the real financial picture. While there could be a number of sources and factors that lead people to such inaccurate conclusions, groups like the Colorado School Finance Project (COSFP) certainly don’t help when they omit $934 million in spending reported by the Department of Education to make the K-12 budgetary picture look bleaker.

Well, they’re ba-a-a-ack. ‘Tis Halloween week, after all. And although my parents have effectively limited my exposure to the world of all things creepy and spooky, I am all too familiar with the experience of reading the selectively scary stories of K-12 funding that COSFP and others peddle. Just look at the group’s latest monthly update: Continue Reading »

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October
27th 2014
Americans Understand Their Schools, Just Not School Finance

Posted under Research & School Accountability & School Finance

All things considered, I think my school is pretty good. It’s got monkey bars, snack time, culturally enriching field trips, and shiny blue fish stickers. Oh, and my dad went there.

If you’re thinking that those things aren’t very convincing measures of overall school quality, you’re right. Yet for a long time, factors like these were held out as possible explanations for the gap between people’s generally positive opinions on their own schools and their less-than-optimistic views of the school system as a whole. Ok, maybe not the monkey bars or fish stickers, but you get the point.

The days of guessing may be coming to a close. Martin West’s new analysis of data from this year’s Education Next Survey (which I wrote about back in August) may be the closest I’ve seen to a really plausible, research-based explanation of what I’ll call—brace for neologism—the “perspective gap.” Continue Reading »

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October
21st 2014
COLA Wars: Yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court Ruling on PERA

Posted under School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

My parents don’t often let me drink soda, but I like to think of myself as a Coca-Cola guy. Pepsi just doesn’t quite do it for me. And don’t even get me started on the off-brand colas. Big K Cola? Yuck!

I have to admit, though, that I haven’t yet tasted this PERA COLA thing I’ve heard so much about. Maybe that’s for the best; judging by some of the reactions I’ve seen to yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling on the issue, I’m thinking I’d probably find it a bit too heavy.

I wrapped up last week’s policy adventures by writing about Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which provides pensions for many Colorado’s public school teachers (roughly  and a large number of other public employees in the state. In that post, I briefly mentioned a 2010 bill that aimed at partially correcting one of PERA’s biggest problems: Unfunded liabilities.

While that bill was a small—perhaps inadequately small—step in the right direction for Colorado, it required some tough changes to be made. Among those changes was a reduction in annual cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments for those covered by PERA’s pensions—including the more than 100,000 retirees who are already receiving benefits. More specifically, the bill cut yearly COLA increases from 3.5 percent to 2 percent or inflation, whichever happens to be lower.

As you may have guessed, this move made some folks rather unhappy. A lawsuit was filed, legal battles were fought, and the case eventually wound up in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. The question: Does the 3.5 percent yearly COLA increase represent a contractual, constitutionally protected obligation for PERA?  According to the Court, the answer is no. Continue Reading »

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October
17th 2014
The Unfair Retirement PERA-chute: New Group Pushes for Pension Reform

Posted under Education Politics & School Finance & Teachers

Happy Friday, readers. I know we’ll all be starting our weekends in a few hours, but I think there’s time to squeeze in just a little more education policy before then. Today’s topic: reform efforts centered on Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

I’ve written about PERA and some of its pitfalls before, but let’s recap briefly for those who are new to the discussion. PERA is Colorado’s public employee pension plan, and the program covers a variety of public employees. Many of those employees are—you guessed it—public school teachers.

While the phrase “pension plan” sounds decidedly innocuous, PERA has been criticized frequently. Among other things, the scheme has been knocked for tying Colorado to some pretty nasty unfunded liabilities and unfairly penalizing young or new public employees.

Although a 2010 bill attempted to address some of PERA’s problems, it may not have fully righted the listing ship. Now, though, the winds may be starting to shift. Continue Reading »

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October
1st 2014
School Choice Programs Save a Ton of Money: Where Could It All Go?

Posted under Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & School Finance & Tax Credits

I talk to you a lot about how expanding access to more schools through choice programs could help Colorado Kids Win. But the truth is that these choice programs also have another benefit: they help save money for the states that adopt them. What does that mean?

More dollars left over for each student who remains in the public school system, or funds available for other things state governments pay for, or even maybe money back to taxpayers. Who knows? In any case, the point is that as students exercise choice and leave the system, they wouldn’t take out as much money as it costs to educate one more student. Here’s the kicker: Continue Reading »

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September
19th 2014
Jeffco Teacher “Sickout” Has Me Feeling Sick… And Confused

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & learning & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Having to write this kind of post makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. Why would some teachers walk out on kids, enough to close down two Jeffco high schools? The headline from a 9News story points to the only two possibilities I can see: AP US History or teacher pay raises.

What… some teachers don’t like pay raises? I doubt it. But the plan approved last night by the Jeffco school board gives 99 percent of teachers a boost in take-home pay. For 98 percent of teachers, it’s either a 2.43% increase if they earned an effective rating, or a 4.25% increase if they earned a highly effective rating. In fact, many weeks ago, the board agreed to increase the total amount available for employee pay increases — from $11.7 million to $18.2 million!

Is that so terrible? Only 66 less-than-effective teachers are left out of the extra salary, but even they get all of their increased PERA retirement costs covered by district taxpayers. New teacher base salary was raised from $33,616 to $38,000. And in an unusually generous move, teachers on the highest end of the scale ($81,031) get a one-time stipend based on their evaluation rating. Continue Reading »

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September
12th 2014
Colorado More Leader than Laggard: A Report Card Eddie Can (Mostly) Enjoy

Posted under Edublogging & Grades and Standards & Journalism & math & Public Charter Schools & reading & School Choice & School Finance & Teachers

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know I have a fondness for report cards. A certain kind, anyway. Just as long as it’s not my report card going home to my parents about my performance. Seriously, though, I like to talk about report cards related to education policy — some more helpful or accurate or comprehensive than others.

Today it’s a piece called Leaders and Laggards, put out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with the help of a couple American Enterprise scholars, that ranks states on a big slate of K-12 education measures.

The study assigns each state a letter grade for each of 11 major categories, and in a couple of cases compares them to the last release in 2007 (Colorado’s grades listed in parentheses): Continue Reading »

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September
3rd 2014
Brookings: Superintendents Don’t Make Big Impact on Student Learning

Posted under Innovation and Reform & learning & Research & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

What exactly should we expect of Colorado’s school district leaders? With a title like SUPERintendent, are we expecting too much of what they can accomplish? What difference does it make for what students in a district learn to have an experienced superintendent as opposed to someone new at the helm?

A brand-new Brookings study strongly suggests that it doesn’t make much difference at all. The academic heavyweight team of Russ Whitehurst, Matt Chingos, and Katharine Lindquist surveyed 10 years of data in school districts across Florida and North Carolina, and found that superintendents account for a mere 0.3 percent of differences in student academic achievement.

So are they saying that it makes no difference who serves in a school district’s top position, reporting directly to the locally elected board of education? Are we to believe that it didn’t matter having my one-time educrush Michelle Rhee running D.C. public schools rather than her predecessors? That Mike Miles left no meaningful mark in Harrison? That a cage-busting leader like Dougco’s Liz Fagen is interchangeable with the average large school district superintendent?

Writing at Jay Greene’s blog, Matt Ladner succinctly clarifies what the Brookings report says: Continue Reading »

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