Whatever It Takes

This story on Community Schools offers an interesting look at what it takes to overcome the impact of poverty on education. The bottom line: It takes patience and creativity. It requires an investment of resources.

From the story:

Though the Washington Heights principal firmly believes in the idea that students can only learn if their basic needs outside the building are met — a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to struggling schools — he is also wary of the argument that infusing schools with social services will immediately lead to academic payoffs.

“Turning a kid’s lights back on on doesn’t make their test scores go up,” House said. “It’s the precondition for learning.”

House knows that firsthand. His community school, serving grades 6-12, was built a decade ago, but changes in key metrics like graduation rates and test scores haven’t come quickly. CHAH, which is 92 percent Hispanic and roughly 90 percent poor, has only recently come off the state’s “priority” list of low-performing schools.

The challenge, according to the principal, has not been finding agreement on the importance of addressing student needs:

I think most people probably don’t need to be convinced that access to health care or eyeglasses or mental health supports is a good thing for kids who might otherwise struggle to have access to those things—

I would argue with that though. I think people see that as a common-sense solution, [but] they’re not interested in paying for it.

I think House (the principal) has it right. People generally agree that kids need to have basic needs met as a precondition to learning. Unfortunately, the will do to whatever it takes is lacking.

Instead, we play at the margins. I appreciate the SCORE recommendations on teacher preparation. Improving the way we prepare teachers and providing them with early career support and mentoring is important for teachers and can improve outcomes for students.

I’ve long advocated for better pay for teachers. Not only do they deserve a professional salary, research indicates that better pay can improve outcomes for students.

Some in our state push vouchers while others suggest expanding the presence of charter schools will make a lasting impact.

Here’s the deal: None of these changes matter to a hungry kid who doesn’t have access to healthcare. The child who goes home to a house with no power or who attends seven schools in ten months because they are moved from one temporary housing solution to another or who has never seen a dentist — that child doesn’t care that teacher prep is a little better or that there’s a new way to evaluate teachers or that grading is now “standards-based.” Sure, these ideas may have merit and may provide some improvement to the school climate, but unless basic needs are met, learning will be difficult.

As House notes, there is often broad agreement on that point. What’s missing is the willingness to invest the money.

Here in Tennessee, we are not even adequately funding the number of teachers we need — we’re coming up $400 million short on that score. Instead of thinking of ways to provide critical social services to students, our General Assembly has eliminated the inheritance tax and the Hall Tax — foregoing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue so that those who have can have more.

We currently have around $900 million in a budget surplus from the 2015-16 fiscal year and we’re $140 million above projections for this fiscal year. How much of that will be invested in schools? Of that new investment (if any), how much will go to provide the wrap-around services students require to ensure basic needs are met?

We understand the challenge. We know the need. Will we do whatever it takes?

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


 

Show Us the Money

WSMV reports state revenues came in at $108 million above projections in September:

Corporate franchise and exercise taxes came in at $76 million more than expectations in the month, which reflects economic activity in August. Sales taxes collections were $24 million higher than the amount budgeted for the month and reflect a 4.5 percent growth rate compared with the same year-ago period.

The surplus from September alone would be enough for the state to add 3500 teachers using the current funding formula. That’s 25% of the total needed to properly fund our state’s schools according to a recent report from the Comptroller’s office.

The report indicated:

The state is considerably underestimating the number of educators needed to run Tennessee schools according to its own requirements, says a state comptroller’s report released Wednesday.
And local governments are paying the difference. Statewide, districts employ about 12,700 more educators than the state funds, according to the comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA.

We are now in our third consecutive year of revenue growth well above projections. It’s time for the state to step up and invest in schools. Three more months with surpluses like September would provide enough revenue ($400 million) for the state to adequately fund teaching positions through the BEP. And don’t forget, we have more than $900 million in surplus funds from the budget year that ended on June 30th.

The money is there. Will it be invested in our schools?

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