Bill Dunn Wrong

Yesterday, in his advocacy for HJR 493, legislation that would remove the Tennessee Constitution’s requirement that the General Assembly adequately fund schools, State Representative Bill Dunn suggested that increasing funding for schools across the state actually does not improve student outcomes. He cited the initial BEP investment, started in 1992 and said that from beginning to end, the program actually resulted in lower student achievement numbers.

This would be a great way to prove Dunn’s case that the General Assembly need not provide additional funds to schools in order to provide an adequate education.

It’s also not true.

Dunn cited ACT scores from the start of the BEP until 1998 and suggested they’d gone down slightly. What he failed to mention is that between 1995 and 1998, the number of students taking the ACT increased by 25%. That would seem to indicate that Rep. Kevin Dunlap was correct when he suggested that new BEP funds created new opportunities for students in rural districts. As the State of Tennessee noted in the 1998 State Report Card:

The ACT is one of three tests approved by the State Board of Education to fulfill the requirement in state law that all students take an exit exam to receive a full high school diploma. The total number of Tennessee graduates taking the ACT rose 25% during the first three years of this new requirement: from 32,628 in 1995 to 40,782 in 1998. Included among those tested were 14,284 who had not completed a college preparatory course of study. Even with these dramatic increases in the number and percentage of students tested, Tennessee’s students were able to narrow the gap between the state and national composite scores in 1998.

So, more students than ever were taking the ACT and by 1998, the state was turning around an initial decline in scores. That’s a different story than the one Bill Dunn told.

Another way to look at the data is to see what happened on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) during the early BEP years. While reading scores from 1992 are not readily available, math scores are. Here’s the comparison:

4th Grade Math

1992         211

2000        220

8th Grade Math

1992        259

2000       263

These results show statistically significant improvements in math scores over the same time period the General Assembly was significantly improving investment in public schools. That is, what Bill Dunn said yesterday was just plain wrong.

Finally, it’s worth examining the ACT score differences among districts during the early BEP years. An examination of data beginning in 1991 (the year before BEP) and ending in 2001 (so as to provide 10 years of comparable data) indicates that the top scoring districts in the state on the ACT were also among the top spending districts. In fact, over those years, while not technically statistically significant, it can be said with 92% confidence that the difference in ACT scores among the highest- and lowest-performing districts is explained by per pupil expenditures. That is, the higher the spending, the more likely the district is to be among the state’s top performers on the ACT.

Additionally, during this same ten year time period, the gap between the highest and lowest scores among districts is clearly explained by the gap in per pupil expenditures among those districts. You spend more, you get better results. The impetus for all this spending was the new BEP formula that sent more money to all school systems. Those districts already at the top were most able to take advantage and boost ACT scores while those at the bottom saw an increase in the number of students taking the ACT, resulting in the statewide slight ACT decline Dunn references.

Investing in schools matters. Our state’s constitution requires the General Assembly to provide a system of free public schools, including providing adequate funding for those schools. Bill Dunn doesn’t think spending levels matter. The data suggests otherwise.

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

Creative Problem Solving

What happens when, despite your best efforts, local school systems sue your state claiming a lack of adequate funding? You get nervous is what happens. Especially when three previous lawsuits claiming your state has underfunded schools have been successful.

When a body like the Tennessee General Assembly faces a dilemma such as whether or not to make funding schools a top priority, they can either make a significant new investment in schools OR wait and see if the courts order them to make a significant new investment in schools. Historically, our General Assembly has waited and then taken corrective action by way of new investment only after courts have found that school funding is not adequate and/or equitable.

Now, however, lawmakers are taking a different approach. They are advancing amendments to the state constitution that would essentially eliminate the requirement that the General Assembly provide for a “system of free public schools” in Tennessee.

That’s creative problem solving. The state’s governing legal document binds the General Assembly in a way they don’t much like. So, just change it. Thus, you are now free to continue inadequately funding the state’s schools.

Former state Senator Roy Herron decried this effort on behalf of Tennessee School Systems for Equity. Here’s his take from a letter he submitted to legislators:

I write on behalf of the Tennessee School Systems for Equity, which includes most of Tennessee’s school districts. As your former colleague, I know something of how incredibly busy you are and so I will come right to the point.

This week you will consider a constitutional amendment that would strip your schools and students of constitutional protection for adequate funding.

There are two different proposed constitutional amendments that would deny Tennessee’s children any state constitutional right to adequate public schools. We believe that if either of these provisions were in Tennessee’s Constitution instead of our decades-old Article XI, Section 12, then our children effectively would have no state constitutional protection to ensure even minimally adequate public schools.

Some may tell you that the amendments would leave your school systems and your students with some constitutional protections. But these amendments would deem whatever funding any future legislature provided — or didn’t provide — to be adequate and constitutional. No matter how little.

The amendments would leave in the Constitution language that would provide the illusion, but remove the reality, of constitutional protection for public schools. If the proposed language were in the Constitution, school children would be doomed to whatever fate any future legislature decreed. And schools in your district could receive millions less in state funding, leading either to woefully inadequate schools or soaring property taxes or both.

It’s hard to imagine anything that would adversely impact our students — or Tennessee’s future — more than stripping our children of their constitutional right to adequate public schools.

HJR 493. A distinguished House colleague of yours, however, also has a constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 493. It is before your House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee this Tuesday, March 1st at 3:00 p.m.

The able sponsor says that he only wants to remove any constitutional requirement for schools to be funded “adequately.” But without constitutional protection, a future legislature could say, for example, that each child gets to go to a free public school for a month a year. And that would be legally and literally true.

This proposed amendment would strip our children of any state constitutional protection to an adequate education. That is the respected sponsor’s stated intent and would be the legislative effect.

Let me respectfully submit for your consideration the following beliefs and concerns:

1. To destroy our state’s constitutional protection for adequate funding:

1.1 Endangers children in every county;

1.2 Endangers Tennessee’s future;

1.3 Leaves future legislatures and governors free to undo every good thing you and this legislature have done to educate our children and would allow them to do wrong by our children.

1.4 Would let future legislatures and governors decide that our children and grandchildren could go to inadequate schools.

2. It is not conservative to:

2.1 Strip citizens of constitutional protections;

2.2 Blindly trust government and future governments to do right;

2.3 Ignore decades of constitutional precedent and history;

2.4 Vote to amend our Constitution without carefully hearing from leading experts or at least the Attorney General;

2.5 Ignore Congressman Davy Crockett’s maxim, “First be sure you’re right; then go ahead.”

On behalf of more than 80 school systems all across Tennessee, I respectfully request that you not strip our children of their constitutional right to adequate schools.

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

What TN Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

Tomorrow, the Tennessee General Assembly’s House Finance Committee will listen to debate and possibly vote on HB 1049, legislation that would create a private school voucher program in the state of Tennessee.

Yes, the 22 members of the Finance Committee could send an expensive, unproven voucher scheme to the House Floor for a vote — or, they could reject the plan or delay a vote until later.

The cost of the program at full implementation comes in at $130 million or more. Local school boards would lose funding but still have to maintain facilities and staffing at or near current levels.

This comes at a time when the state is facing a lawsuit calling its funding of public schools inadequate.

It seems that, no matter what you believe about the merits of that lawsuit, it would be wise to wait on starting an expensive new program until the suit is settled. Imagine if the state opens vouchers and then also loses the school funding lawsuit. The money that would then be going to vouchers could be used to boost funding at public schools.

Aside from the funding question, though, it’s important to pay attention to outcomes. As Jon Alfuth noted in an article on the topic last year, so far, there is little to no evidence of a positive impact on student outcomes from a voucher program.

If what we do in education is truly all about the students, then we should adopt policies that have proven positive impacts.

Proponents may argue, though, that vouchers haven’t shown harm and it is possible Tennessee’s program could be the one that finally shows a benefit.

Except, now there’s a study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Instead of showing no impact or a slight positive impact, the study shows actual harms to students participating in the program.

Specifically, the study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research found:

  • Attendance at a voucher-eligible private school lowers math scores and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent.
  • Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies were also negative and significant.
  • The negative impacts of vouchers were consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are more significant for younger children.
  • Survey data shows that voucher-eligible private schools experience rapid enrollment declines prior to entering the program, indicating that the vouchers may attract private schools struggling to maintain enrollment.

So, not only are vouchers expensive, they have been shown (in Louisiana at least) to have negative impacts on students.

With little data showing any significant positive gains and new data suggesting possible harms, it is difficult to understand why policymakers would adopt a voucher system in Tennessee.

 

A group in Nashville speaking out against vouchers: 

 

nashville vouchers 2016-2

 

 

 

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

 

TSBA Agenda

The Tennessee General Assembly begins its 2016 session today.

The Tennessee School Boards Association has released an agenda that includes opposition to vouchers and funding of items mentioned in prior BEP Review Committee reports.

Here it is:

TSBA firmly believes in the success of Tennessee’s public schools and the opportunities they have provided and continue to provide to children.  The association acknowledges the challenges that public schools face as well as the need for continued improvement, and its member boards of education are dedicated to reaching the goal of every child achieving his or her highest potential.  We believe we can help accomplish this goal by focusing our legislative efforts on the following areas:
Local Control of Schools   TSBA believes that local boards of education are the best equipped and informed to make decisions to address the needs and challenges of their local schools.  TSBA opposes any efforts to diminish or impede upon this local control.

Maintenance of Effort Penalties   TSBA believes that the responsibility and accountability for funding schools should be connected.  Rather than the state withholding BEP funds if a local budget is not timely adopted, TSBA supports legislative changes to shift the penalty to the funding body whereby the state would withhold local sales tax dollars.

Maintenance of Effort Requirements   TSBA supports legislative efforts to change the local responsibilities of funding bodies to ensure that they provide at least a 3% increase every three years.

Publicly Funded Vouchers   TSBA opposes any expansion of the special education voucher program as well as any new legislation that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.

Minimum Instructional Time   TSBA supports legislation to provide an option to school districts to meet instructional requirements through a minimum number of instructional days or a minimum number of instructional hours.

Fees for Inspection of Records   TSBA believes that the public’s ability to inspect records must be weighed with the burden on staff to comply with open records requests and supports legislation to allow for reasonable fees when LEAs must create numerous documents and/or expend several man hours in order to comply with a request for inspection.
BEP Recommendations and Priorities   TSBA urges Governor Haslam, the General Assembly, and the Department of Education to continue efforts to fund all of the recommendations and priorities of prior reports of the BEP Review Committee.
The Tennessee School Boards Association will actively support legislation relative to these and other issues as determined by its Resolutions and Position Statements.

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

They Noticed

Tom Humphrey reports that school boards across the state have noticed that this year’s BEP Review Committee report is missing a few items that total some $500 million or more in shortfalls in the state’s funding of schools.

From his story:

Last week the Bradley board, also part of the suit, passed a resolution denouncing the exclusion of the recommendations and calling on the TSBA to adopt its own resolution “calling upon State officials to fund the true cost of educating Tennessee students, specifically to include the cost components recognized and recommended by the BEP Review Committee in past years.”

That’s what happened Sunday night, when 217 of the 219 delegates voted for the resolution seeking full funding of past priorities.

I noted earlier that the Committee’s omissions this year amounted to, “a deliberate attempt to avoid tough issues.”

And, it’s not like the state is short on funds to actually begin properly investing in schools. In fact, there’s a surplus that’s projected to be at least $1 billion by the end of this fiscal year.

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

It’s Raining Money, But Not on Schools

Tom Humphrey reports on the most recent budget projections which predict a surplus of between $300-$400 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.

This money, combined with the $600 million surplus from the fiscal year which ended on June 30, 2015, means the state will have about $1 billion in unanticipated, uncommitted revenue.

On top of that, economists are projecting growth in the $400-$500 million range for the upcoming budget year.

As Humphrey notes, proposals are floating so spend the surplus on road projects or tax cuts or both.

What’s not being mentioned?

Schools.

Despite a pair of lawsuits contending the state’s school funding formula, the BEP, is inadequate, lawmakers and the Governor are not rushing to suggest significant new investments in Tennessee schools.

This in spite of the fact that after a one year bounce on NAEP results, our state is now holding flat. Maybe that’s because Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham is suggesting our state aspire toward “mediocrity” while holding a forum on disastrous (and expensive) school voucher schemes.

If the state invested half of the available surplus on the BEP formula, that would be a $500 million injection of funds to local schools. That would be a sure way to hold down local property tax increases while also beefing up the resources school systems have to provide an education. The revenue projections for the 2016-17 fiscal year indicate an investment of this magnitude is sustainable. And, by holding a portion of the surplus in reserve, the state could ensure against any unanticipated shortfalls.

All of that would still leave $200-$300 million available to spend on one-time costs like road projects.

Will Tennessee put its foot on the accelerator and invest in schools so our students have the resources they need to compete with the rest of the country? Will Bill Haslam use the surplus and projected new revenue to truly make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay?

The General Assembly will have answers to these questions starting in January.

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

Aspiring Toward Mediocrity

That’s what Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham had to say in terms of Tennessee’s education goals right after praising the state’s recent NAEP results.

Her remarks came at the beginning of a hearing her committee conducted on school choice earlier this week. They can be found just past the two minute mark in this video. 

What’s frustrating is that she then proceeded to spend hours conducting a hearing that was nothing short of a celebration of all the supposed benefits of school voucher schemes.

Here’s a quick summary of some key arguments against vouchers.

The bottom line is they are expensive, can be susceptible to fraud, reduce accountability, and most importantly do not improve student academic outcomes.

While Gresham continues to put forward school vouchers as a solution to at least get Tennessee to mediocrity, the state’s BEP Review Committee is busy telling legislators that all the funding woes of the past have been miraculously cleared up.

After hours of hearings, we are still no closer to a path to that mediocrity to which Gresham hopes our state can achieve. At least we now have a clear understanding of her expectations.

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

 

What’s Missing is What Matters

The 2015 incarnation of the BEP Review Committee has concluded its business and issued a report. What’s interesting is that this year’s report is missing something: Hundreds of millions of dollars of recommended improvements that the committee usually makes as a suggestion to the legislature in terms of how to improve funding for the state’s schools.

Instead, the recommendations include finishing out the work on fully-funding teacher insurance — paying for a full twelve months, some vague language about improving teacher salaries, and about $10 million for technology improvements. The total cost of these recommendations is $40 million.

Compare that to last year’s report, which recommended a number of improvements with a cost in excess of $500 million.

The report from last year noted recommendations that included:

Eliminate Cost Differential Factor (CDF)  $(71,182,000)

Fund ELL Teachers 1:20  — COST: $28,709,000

Fund ELL Translators 1:200  COST: $2,866,000

CBER at 100%  $(2,639,000)

Instructional Component at funded at 75% by State  COST: $153,448,000

Insurance at 50%  COST: $26,110,000

BEP 2.0 Fully Implemented  COST: $133,910,000

Other Committee Requests

BEP Salary at $45,447  COST: $266,165,000

BEP Salary at $50,447  COST: $532,324,000

BEP Salary at Southeastern average $50,359  COST: $527,646,000

BEP Salary at State average (FY14) $50,116    COST: $514,703,000

The Committee last year also recommended:

Change funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500  $57,518,000

Change funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250  $39,409,000

Change funding ratio for secondary counselors from 1:350 to 1:250  $18,079,000

Change funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250  $57,497,000

Change Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard  $11,739,000

Change 7-12 funding ratios, including CTE, by 3 students  $87,928,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions)  $17,670,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries)  $25,576,000

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  $12,194,000

Change funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200  $4,150,000

Increase Funding for teacher materials and supplies by $100  $6,336,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA)  $5,268,000

12 Months Insurance  $64,411,000

The 2013 Report made similar recommendations:

Component Change State Cost 12 months’ insurance $60,376,000

Increase funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500 $52,799,000

Increase funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250 $35,733,000

Increase funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250 $52,909,000

Fully implement BEP 2.0 $146,223,000

Raise Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard $7,216,000

Reduce 7-12 ratios, including CTE, by 3 students $81,333,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions) $14,333,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries) $22,062,000

Reduce funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500 $9,438,000

Reduce funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200 $1,756,000

Increase funding for teacher materials and supplies by $100 $3,655,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA) $2,960,000

Capital Outlay Restored (done in FY14) – Total state cost of all recommendations $490,793,00

So, in 2013, the BEP Review Committee made recommendations costing nearly $500 million. That was there view on what would be an adequately funded BEP. Then, in 2014, the committee suggested improvements in excess of $500 million.

Now, in 2015, with the state facing lawsuits for inadequately funding its schools, the committee says everything is better and that with just $40 million in improvements, the BEP will be adequate.

It’s worth noting that the state continues to fund teacher salaries at well below actual rates. Adjusting the formula to provide local districts with teacher funding based on actual average salaries would cost more than $500 million. Even getting that number to just $45,000 per teacher would be $266 million.

The committee also has (historically) recognized that local schools need additional assistance in terms of school psychologists, nurses, professional development, counselors, and mentoring of teachers.

Suddenly, this year, the committee has decided these items are not priorities. They don’t even merit a mention in the BEP report, which at just 47 pages is among the shortest reports issued, and fully 1/3 the size of last year’s document.

Maybe if they don’t write down the needs of districts, those needs will go away. Or, maybe the attorneys for the school districts suing won’t find the earlier reports which consistently paint a clear picture of inadequately funded schools while also pointing the way to the steps necessary to improve the BEP formula.

Whatever the case, this year’s report comes up short. Legislators need only  look to the very recent past to find the evidence our state’s schools deserve more than what current funding levels provide.

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

 

Ron Ramsey’s Coming to Get Your Pre-K and He’s Driving a Chevy Tahoe

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has earned his brand new Chevy Tahoe through smart choices and hard work, just ask him, as reported by Andrea Zelinski:

You know what, if they work hard and set their goals high, you decide tomorrow that I want to go back to college and and I’m going to make a proper sacrifice, when I hear stuff like, I do get a little upset. Nobody ever gave me a dime. When I was 21 years old, I knew what I wanted to do in life, I made my steps toward that. And yes, now I can afford to drive a Tahoe. The same people I went to high school with decided they didn’t want to go to college, they decided they wanted to go to Eastman. They decided they wanted to be off at 5 o’clock and go fishing. I didn’t. So yes, I made some choices in my life to where I can now afford a Tahoe and other people didn’t. Yes.

It’s all about smart choices, you see. And, since no one ever gave him a dime, why should anyone else get the chances Ron Ramsey had. Ramsey is among those who think that the state’s voluntary Pre-K program should be scaled back. The program is designed to provide Pre-K to children from families who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Families who maybe can’t afford a brand new Chevy Tahoe — no doubt, Ramsey would say that’s their own choice, of course.

Here’s what Ramsey had to say on Pre-K:

“I’ll leave it up to the governor: he’ll have to propose it. There’ll probably be bills in the Legislature to pull back,” Ramsey said. “Do I think we should pull back? We probably should start systematically pulling back on that. Education is a limited pot of money, a finite pot and any dollar you put into pre-K is a dollar you took away from K-12 education. I would like see it begin, absolutely. I don’t know what the amount would be.”

But then, since “no one ever gave (him) a dime,” why should the state be paying for programs that might help the children of those families get a leg up on school?

First, the idea that Pre-K is “not working” is simply not supported by the evidence (a recent Vanderbilt study and an earlier study by the Comptroller’s office). In fact, analysis of the results of those studies indicate that Pre-K yields two years of clear academic benefits for a one year investment in a child. That’s a pretty good ROI.

Second, Ron Ramsey is one of the most powerful men in Tennessee public policy. He presides over a Senate with 28 Republicans and rules it as forcefully as Jimmy Naifeh once controlled the House. So, when he says “education is a limited pot of money,” he’s a big reason why that pot is so limited. If he wanted to put more money into public education, he could certainly push through such an initiative, even over the Governor’s objection. The fact is, he hasn’t.

And, it’s not like Tennessee doesn’t have available funds. In the recently concluded fiscal year, we had over $600 million in surplus revenue. That’s money that could be used to expand the “finite pot” of education dollars that Ramsey and other legislative leaders have built for our schools.

Some school systems are even suggesting (by way of lawsuit) that the pot of money being provided to them is simply not adequate to meet the needs of their students. And of course, by continuing to let the problem fester, as Ramsey has, Tennessee taxpayers are suffering a sort of double taxation.

Anyway, Ron Ramsey has a cool new Chevy Tahoe. Which he earned. All by himself. 4-year-olds from low income families should just be more like Ron. They don’t need Pre-K, they just need more grit and determination.

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

 

Just Like Mississippi

This letter to the editor about the current school funding crisis in Mississippi reminded me of the funding issues faced in Tennessee as a result of a Governor and legislature so far unwilling to properly fund our public schools.

Of particular interest was this note:

Every citizen of Mississippi pays taxes; income tax, sales tax and others; and a portion of that tax is required to be used to fund public education in this state. Again, the law is known as MAEP. When the legislature fails to obey this law, two things happen: First, the legislature gets to use the money it did not spend for pubic education for other purposes, even for funding private education with public money. Second, the local school districts, because the functions of running a school district must continue, have to request more local funding from the boards of supervisors. This, in turn, causes the supervisors to have to raise local millage rates.

This is effectively double taxation to fund education.

Except for the fact that Tennessee does not have an income tax, this is exactly what is happening in our state. Citizens are paying state taxes, the state is underfunding schools, and local governments are raising property taxes in order to address the shortfall.

In fact, because of revenue issues, Clay County’s School Board recently voted to delay the re-opening of schools following Fall Break.

And, Tennessee’s school funding challenge can be met without raising taxes. Yes, we have a $600 million surplus for 2015 fiscal year. Are legislative leaders talking about using that money to invest in schools?

No.

Instead, they are talking about more tax breaks for the investor class or building roads.

When the state fails to adequately support public schools and then passes down expensive, unfunded mandates, local taxpayers end up footing the bill.

Let me say this again: Tennessee taxpayers paid more than $600 million more than was projected just last year. Revenue is up above projections again this year. And legislators are talking about using the extra money for roads and tax breaks, but not schools.

That means taxpayers will likely see local tax increases or that local schools will go without needed resources — or, in some cases, both.

The BEP — the state’s funding formula for schools, is broken. But, the legislature is not yet poised to fix it.

When it comes to support for schools, Tennessee’s General Assembly is a lot like Mississippi’s.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport