Fiscal Note Fantasy

The debate over vouchers began this week in the Tennessee House and Senate. A new vehicle for carrying vouchers (HB1049/SB999) is the chosen method for implementing a voucher scheme in Tennessee.

Of particular interest is the Fiscal Note, prepared by the legislature’s new Executive Director of Fiscal Review, who previously worked at the Friedman Foundation — an outfit dedicated to school choice.

The analysis of costs points out a shift of state and local dollars to non-public schools in an amount that goes up to nearly $70 million by FY 18-19 and beyond.

For local education agencies that have schools in the bottom five percent of achievement and are mandated to participate in the statewide scholarship program, the shift of state and required local BEP funding from these local education agencies to the non-public participating schools is estimated as follows: $16,570,000 in FY15-16; $25,473,800 in FY16- 17; $34,815,000 in FY17-18; and an amount exceeding $69,630,000 in FY18-19 and subsequent years.

In an unusual twist, the analysis notes a long-term savings to local governments and LEAs. Specifically:

LEAs with participating students will be relieved of the long-term educational cost burden of educating such students. Using the third year of the statewide program as the baseline, the cost burden relieved in FY17-18 is reasonably estimated to be $24,275,000.  This amount will increase in FY18-19 and each subsequent year. The long-term result of such cost burden relief could be a permissive decrease in local expenditures, a permissive reallocation of local funding, or a permissive cost avoidance of local expenditures. Cost burden relief may also result in a higher per pupil expenditure for students that remain within an LEA school. An LEA’s capacity to make any such permissive choice depends on the number and dispersion of students that participate in the scholarship program.  If the number of participating students is small and widely dispersed across grade levels it is less likely that any such permissive choice could be implemented, but more likely if the number is large and concentrated in just a few grades. 

What is not mentioned is the net loss of $10 million if these assumptions are accurate. That is, the FY17-18 “cost shift” is $34 million and the savings or “relief” is $24 million. In FY18-19 and beyond, the cost shift is nearly $70 million, with no estimate provided for cost relief, though it should “increase.”

First, I’d note this is still a net loss to school systems.

Next, I’d point out that fixed costs would mean the projected relief is more fantasy than reality. This is admitted to some extent when the note says:

If the number of participating students is small and widely dispersed across grade levels it is less likely that any such permissive choice could be implemented, but more likely if the number is large and concentrated in just a few grades. 

Additionally, a recent report on the impact of charter schools on MNPS gets to the same point in terms of students lost versus fixed costs:

“The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

This analysis suggests two things: First, that the Fiscal Note assumptions about cost “relief” may be suspect and second, that the only way to gain true cost savings from a voucher program would be through school closures.

That’s right, to get true savings from a voucher program public schools would have to close. If they don’t, the cost shift noted in the fiscal analysis would mean increased costs to districts who then operate with decreased revenue.

This may be the fantasy of voucher advocates, but it’s a nightmare for public schools and the families they serve.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

Ready to Grade?

Measurement, Inc. has been hired by the State of Tennessee to design new standardized tests to replace TCAP. The new test is to be aligned to Tennessee’s new standards and will include constructed-response questions in addition to multiple choice. This means students will write answers or demonstrate work as part of the test. The idea is to demonstrate understanding of a subject, rather than simply guessing on a multiple choice test. Typically, grading a constructed response test is costly, because evaluators have to read and consider the answers and then rate them based on a rubric. Fortunately for Tennessee taxpayers, Measurement, Inc. has found a way to keep these costs low.

Here’s an ad from Measurement seeking Evaluators/Readers for tests:

Thank you for your interest in employment with Measurement Incorporated. We are a diverse company engaged in educational research, test development, and the scoring of tests administered throughout the world. Our company has grown to be the largest of its kind by providing consistent and reliable results to our clients. We are able to do so through the efforts of a professional and flexible staff, and we welcome your interest in becoming a member. Measurement Incorporated Reader/Evaluator Position Recruiting for projects starting in March of 2015 for both day and evening shift at the Ypsilanti Scoring Center. If you qualify as a reader/evaluator, you will be eligible to work on a number of our projects. Many projects require readers to score essays for content, organization, grammatical convention, and/or the student’s ability to communicate and to respond to a specific directive. Other projects involve scoring test items in reading, math, science, social studies, or other subject areas. The tests you will score come from many different states and from students at all grade levels, elementary through college, depending on the project.

LOCATION Measurement Incorporated Ypsilanti Scoring Center 1057 Emerick Ypsilanti, MI 48198 (734) 544-7686

REQUIREMENTS Bachelor’s degree in any field Ability to perform adequately on a placement assessment Completion of a successful interview Access to a home computer with high speed internet in a secure work area for telecommuters

HOURS Readers are hired on a temporary basis by project but are expected to work five days per week, Monday through Friday. Hours vary by shift. Attendance during training (usually the first few days of a project) is mandatory. PAY The starting pay is $10.70 per hour. After successful completion of three major scoring projects (or a minimum of 450 hours), readers who meet the minimum standards of production, accuracy and attendance will receive an increase to $11.45 per hour.

APPLICATION PROCEDURE To apply, please go to http://www.measurementinc.com/Employment/ and select the Reader/Evaluator position. Select Ypsilanti as your location and click on the “Apply Online” tab. Qualified applicants will be contacted to complete an online placement assessment, schedule an interview, and provide proof of degree. If invited to work on a scoring project, proof of employment eligibility in order to complete a federal I-9 from will be required within three days of employment.

Apparently, scorers at the Nashville scoring center can earn starting pay of $11.20 an hour.

 

Certainly, quality scorers for TNReady can be found for $10.70-$11.20 an hour via ads posted on Craigslist. I’m sure parents in the state are happy to know this may be the pool of scorers determining their child’s test score. And teachers, whose evaluations are based on growth estimates from these tests, are also sure to be encouraged by the validity of results obtained in this fashion. So, if you have a Bachelor’s degree and want to make around $11 an hour on a temporary, contract basis by all means, get in touch with the developers of Tennessee’s new standardized tests. For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Hungry for BEP Reform

School Boards in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis have all voted to begin the process of exploring a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state’s school funding formula, the BEP.

This challenge is different from the previous Small Schools challenges in two ways. First, it is being initiated by the large school systems, with some support from smaller districts. Second, it’s about adequacy, not equity. That is to say: The point of this potential lawsuit would be to say Tennessee’s school funding formula does not provide enough funding for ALL districts.

Past suits, focused on equity, argued that smaller and poorer districts lost out because the formula didn’t give kids from all districts an equal opportunity. There’s certainly evidence that the BEP is approaching (or already at) unacceptable levels of inequity. One noteworthy example is teacher pay, which shows a disparity of 42% between the top paying and lowest paying districts. The last Small Schools suit found a disparity of 45% unconstitutional. It’s not at all a stretch to suggest that 42% is also unconstitutional or that Tennessee will very soon be at the 45% disparity level.

This time, though, systems are suggesting that overall funding for schools needs to increase — likely to the tune of $500 million or more.

A story from June of last year might explain why. The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported on changes to rules governing school nutrition, including what can be sold in vending machines at school. Here’s an interesting note from that article:

Before the change to diet sodas, Soddy-Daisy High School’s vending machines would pull in nearly $40,000 a year — money that helped pay the monthly phone bill or purchase copier paper. Now that revenue is down to about $9,000 annually…

…In Hamilton County, the school district funds teaching positions, maintains building and pays utility bills. But for other costs of running a school — including copiers, phone bills and school supplies — the schools have their own budgets, which often don’t come close to covering annual expenses. That’s why money from school fees, vending machines and fundraisers is so important.

Yes, that’s right. Schools are counting on money from selling unhealthy snacks to teenagers to meet their budgets. Existing funds aren’t enough to pay the phone bill or provide adequate school supplies.

The problem with the BEP now goes beyond equity — the inputs simply aren’t adequate to meet the needs of Tennessee’s public schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

A TN BAT Asks a Key Question

Tennessee teacher and Badass Teachers Association (BAT) member Larry Proffitt asks an important question of his colleagues in a recent post on the BAT blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

How do we correct our path and stave off the test-crazed push for perfect scores? We get involved. One of the most effective teaching strategies is modeling, so we model. We talk to our board members, commission members and legislators. We sit and do not complain, but we state problems and offer solutions. It is what educators do. It is what we must do. “I just want to teach!” Yes, I’ve heard it more than I can count. I’m sure students, if asked, would say they just want to learn and be children. They, my friends, are depending on us. Our students deserve the opportunity to learn all they can and develop as whole students. Itinerant subjects are being lost to improvement and prep. Is it truly improvement if they are losing the arts and social interaction that helps them learn about co-existing with those that are different than themselves. Every aspect of our schools, good schools, are important. We cannot afford to sacrifice the next generation. Does it mean there does not need to be change? Of course not, but it doesn’t mean educators and students are failing. It means society has changed and requires those in charge to supply resources to deal with those changes. We must insure students are the focus.
Read all Larry has to say here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

TREE vs. Vouchers

TREE – Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence – is taking to the Hill on Tuesday to express opposition to a voucher scheme. Some form of voucher proposal has been before the legislature in three consecutive sessions now. So far, vouchers have yet to pass and become law. Will this be the year? Or will opponents once again win the day in defense of public schools?

Here’s the email from TREE:

novouchersticker

Join us at the Tennessee State Capitol, Legislative Plaza, on  Tuesday, March 3 for a “Day on the Hill Against School Vouchers.” Come help us take action!

Here are the current voucher bills in committee: HB0210/SB0122 and HB1049/SB0999

We encourage you to make appointments with your elected officials now to share your concerns over this destructive legislation. Find their contact info here. They are always very open to hearing from constituents.

At our booth you will find flyers with talking points and an opportunity to craft your message to share with your lawmakers in writing. If you are not able to get an appointment or speak to anyone in the General Assembly, come to the TREE booth and we will make sure your voice is heard. We will be joined by other citizen activists from other groups opposing vouchers.

Go right, down the hall, from the security check-in. You will find our table and many others. Our booth will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

If you are unable to join us in Nashville, please take the time to thoughtfully e-mail or call your elected officials and tell them you do not want private school vouchers in Tennessee. Remind them that research consistently shows vouchers do NOT increase student achievement. Let them know that our public schools are already stretched thin, and we cannot afford to take money AWAY from our public schools at a time when our schools are asked to do more and more. Find your legislators’ email addresses and phone numbers here.

You can read more on Facebook. Please join us. We will be giving away our round “No School Vouchers” sticker shown above at our booth.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow us @TNEdReport

TN ASD: Mission Creep or Just Creepy?

Tennessee’s Achievement School District has come under fire recently for both lackluster performance and poor community communication.

The Achievement School District was designed to help provide a focused turnaround to schools persistently struggling.

Tennessee’s Race to the Top application outlines the proposed ASD strategy. The relevant details begin on page 120.

Here are the basics: The ASD was originally conceived to provide highly focused turnaround attention to 13 schools.  Additional schools might be added beginning in 2014-15.  There’s even a handy chart on page 130 that details the anticipated timeline and strategy.

The ASD currently operates 23 schools, according to its website. And, it is slated to takeover more schools in both Shelby County and Nashville in 2015-16.

The original plan seems sensible: Work with the 13 most persistently low-performing schools, get them on track, and then use strategies learned in the process to help other schools. Meanwhile, Renewal Schools would be operated by districts and implement other turnaround models (think the iZone in Memphis and Nashville).

Instead, the ASD has followed a rather bumpy path, growing while struggling to meet performance goals. The ASD needs growth of 8-10 points a year in the schools it operates in order to hit its targets — and it is well below that number now. That may be in part due to the rapid growth beyond original expectations.

In one particularly unpleasant episode, the ASD pitted two Nashville middle schools against each other in a fight for survival.

Here’s something that should give policymakers pause: According to the most recent State Report Card, the ASD spends more than $1000 per student MORE than district schools and yet gets performance that is no better than (and sometimes worse) the district schools it replaced.

By creeping beyond its admirable mission, the ASD has become an example of good intentions gone awry. Focusing on the original goal of using highly focused effort to both improve struggling schools AND learn new strategies to help other schools would be a welcome change.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Hope Street Group Seeking TN Fellows

Hope Street Group is seeking applicants for their Tennessee Teacher Fellows Program.

Here’s a brief description:

State Teachers Fellows serve as local spokespeople for educators’ ideas and perspectives. They have opportunities to broaden their understanding of state reform efforts; learn media skills; and receive continuous support in writing blog posts, op-eds, and letters to the editor. They meet directly with state policymakers to share the views of educators and to present educator-generated solutions. They also participate in statewide and national events for teachers engaged in teacher voice work.

Hope Street Group’s state teacher fellowship program was launched in Kentucky in 2013 and in Hawaii in 2014 in partnership with teacher associations. “KEA applauds Hope Street Group’s self-examination and desire to become even better at helping promote teacher participation in the issues facing public schools today,” said Mary Ann Blankenship, Executive Director of the Kentucky Education Association.

Complete Application Information

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Education Forum Announced by TNEdReport & Hillsboro PTSO

The Tennessee Education Report and the Hillsboro PTSO are happy to announce a mayoral forum will be held at Hillsboro High School on Thursday, April 2nd, at 6:30 PM. The debate will be moderated by Steve Cavendish, News Editor for the Nashville Scene. The forum will focus on the future of Nashville’s education and will include questions submitted by the Hillsboro High School Student Government. We invite all students, teachers, families, and community members to this event.

“We hope this forum will provide a great setting for our mayoral candidates to really go in depth on how they see the future of Nashville’s education,” said Zack Barnes, co-founder of Tennessee Education Report and a middle school teacher at Metro Nashville Public Schools. “Many people, including teachers, are wanting to know more about the candidate’s views on education, and we think this will be the perfect place to share them.”

“The Hillsboro High School PTSO is thrilled to be co-hosting this important Mayoral Forum with the Tennessee Education Report at Hillsboro,” said Hillsboro PTSO Co-President Carey Morgan. “We believe education is a bedrock issue for Nashville, and we are looking forward to hearing where our candidates stand on the issues surrounding education, including the state of our facilities.”

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.