October 29, 2009
Back in September, Senator William Raggio (R-Washoe) opined that budget cuts to education in Nevada could result in an “adequacy” lawsuit. Supposedly, such threats would compel him, and others, to increase taxes. NPRI responded with an article, “Inadequate? or Ineffective?” to relieve those concerns.
NPRI noted that the vast majority of states which lost adequacy lawsuits for public education and then increased spending saw no significant gains in student achievement. Only Massachusetts saw significant gains, but its students were outperformed by those of Florida, a state which spent about half as much per pupil.
Some good news on the adequacy-lawsuit front comes from Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth. In an article for the Federalist Society, “Judicial Funding Mandates Related to Education Sharply Decline,” Hanushek and Lindseth report that a dozen adequacy lawsuits have been dismissed by state courts across the nation since 2005. Not a single case since 2005 has resulted in a judgment demanding increased funding to public education.
In Horne v. Flores the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower-court decision requiring increased funding to programs for English language learners in Arizona. The court noted that increased funding had little to no impact on student achievement.
According to the Pacific Legal Foundation "[t]he issue was whether the courts improperly declined to modify an injunction against Arizona for failing to provide sufficient funding for non-English speaking school children."
Even though Nevada’s constitutional requirements of public education are written in a way that would make a victorious adequacy lawsuit improbable to begin with, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Horne v. Flores now makes that scenario even less likely. Senator Raggio, you have nothing to worry about now.
With the adequacy lawsuit monkey off Nevada’s back, maybe lawmakers can turn their efforts toward smart, effective and frugal education policies — rather than trying to figure out more creative ways of taking other people’s hard-earned money.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently scolded the state of Hawaii for cutting 17 school days from its instructional calendar. Rather than face real budget cuts, Hawaii used federal stimulus funds to supplant state dollars for K-12 education. To reduce expenditures further while avoiding serious decisions about K-12 education funding, the state also cut 17 school days from the calendar. According to Duncan, Hawaii will receive approximately $157 million from the federal government for this school year.
Ironically, charter schools have made large gains nationwide by using their scarce resources efficiently enough to actually expand the school year. More school days means more days of learning, and for many students this has produced positive results.
Hawaii, however, has chosen to cut back on the amount of days available for students to learn. Students in Hawaii will receive just 163 days of instruction, compared to the national average of 180. Successful charter and private schools, by contrast, can have between 200 and 220 days of instruction in a school year. This is a sad development considering that the entire state of Hawaii is an empowerment school district.
Maybe the state’s failure stems from the absence of open enrollment, through which competition between public schools encourages greater efficiency. Maybe the failure reflects the fact that empowerment schools in Hawaii control just 47 percent of the state’s K-12 operating budget.
Whatever the case, the evidence suggests that perverse incentives in Hawaii are encouraging poor decision making.
October 26, 2009
Last week’s conference on empowerment schools garnered some impressive support from some influential Nevadans. While much of the debate on expanding empowerment has been on securing more money for empowerment schools, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford stated, “you can do empowerment without more money. You can do empowerment by giving the flexibility to the schools, principals and teachers.”
Senator Horsford was one of the original legislative supporters of the school empowerment bill that mandated pilot programs for Washoe County and Clark County back in 2007. Senator Horsford and other legislators understood that local teachers and principals know best about what they need to serve their students.
Horsford also came out in support of expanding empowerment school autonomy, including granting empowerment schools control over resources used to pay for professional development and transportation.
Horsford not only understands empowerment, he also knows how it needs to mature and evolve. But will the state legislature mandate a statewide empowerment program in 2011, or will the districts be left to their own devices?
October 24, 2009
Frequently parents and others who follow Karen Gray's reports on the Clark County School District, the state Board of Education and other subjects ask her about her impressions of those meetings and those topics.
It's an intelligent request, as many of them know that Karen's research covers many meetings and many subjects that never show up in her published reports and commentaries.
So, to meet those requests, Karen is now recording her quick, "off the cuff" thoughts on the Parents' Sounding Board. Right now, you can read her October 7, 8, 9 and 20 postings. They cover a CCSD board work session, a state Board of Ed meeting, a CCSD board regular meeting, and the most recent CCSD Attendance Zone Advisory Commission meeting. If you're interested, click here or the Off the Cuff picture.
October 23, 2009
Teachers and principals understood the problem: Teaching licenses are an artificial and arbitrary barrier to entry into the teaching profession. They knew what the Brookings Institution discovered: that teaching certifications have no bearing on teacher quality. When will the Nevada Legislature clue in to what teachers, principals and education researchers already understand?
Side note: Senator Barbara Cegavske sponsored, and all her fellow Republicans in the state Senate plus Democrats Steven Horsford and Terry Care supported, an alternative-teacher-certification bill this past legislative session. The bill would have made it easier for professional adults to become teachers in Nevada.
October 14, 2009
Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you likely are aware that Nevada spends a great deal of money on education — about $12 billion for this biennium. Yet we are dead last in high-school graduation rate and among the bottom 10 for student math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Unless parents and taxpayers take back control of the spending and demand some accountability, we will keep spending more money without improving student achievement.
If you need a refresher on the situation in Nevada, the Review-Journal published my commentary revealing that the Clark County School District spends more than $12,300 per pupil for the 2009-10 school year. The Nevada Business Journal also published a crossfire-style column, with Higher Education Chancellor Daniel Klaich arguing for more money and myself arguing that we already spend enough (UNLV spends $16,000 per pupil and UNR spends over $30,000 per pupil).
And if you're interested in more information on higher education, I have compiled spending and graduation data on more than 500 public universities across the country.
Higher Education Spending
Higher Education Graduation Rates
October 13, 2009
Some important things to remember:
1) Federal Law requires states to provide free and appropriate education to children with special needs – public or private.
2) Parents may unilaterally place their child in private schools and be reimbursed for the cost of tuition if they can prove in court that the public schools have failed to provide an appropriate education.
3) Costs for special education have not risen drastically enough to dry up resources for other uses in public education. In fact, the Federal government provides substantial support for special education programs.
4) The student population with severe mental retardation are on the decline. Students with autism make up only 0.3 percent of the student population and account for 0.45 percent of all public education expenditures.
5) The largest growth in special education has been from Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) which are minor and inexpensive to provide care.
6) Special education vouchers have slowed the growth of SLD identification as public schools may have been diagnosing poor performing students as SLD in order to gain access to additional funds.
7) Special education vouchers are often cheaper than the cost of a public education. Florida’s McKay scholarships (special needs voucher) average just $7,206 while the average disabled student in Florida’s public schools costs approximately $17,000 per year.
On a side note: Senator Barbara Cegavske (R, District 8) has attempted (at least twice now) to introduce and pass a school choice program for special needs children. As the evidence in support of special education vouchers (and tax-credits) mounts, Senator Cegavske may find herself with more momentum in 2011.
October 5, 2009
The article -- first of three, we understand -- is at http://www.npri.org/publications/destroying-child-care-to-help-it-part-i .