Listen to the Money Talk

Does basing teacher evaluation on student test scores get results that impact student outcomes?

No.

That’s the conclusion from a years-long study funded by the Gates Foundation that included Memphis/Shelby County Schools.

Education Week reports:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s multi-million-dollar, multi-year effort aimed at making teachers more effective largely fell short of its goal to increase student achievement—including among low-income and minority students, a new study found.

Under its intensive partnerships for effective teaching program, the Gates Foundation gave grants to three large school districts—Memphis, Tenn. (which merged with Shelby County during the course of the initiative); Pittsburgh; and Hillsborough County, Fla.—and to one charter school consortium in California starting in the 2009-10 school year. The foundation poured $212 million into these partnerships over about six years, and the districts put up matching funds. The total cost of the initiative was $575 million.

The school sites agreed to design new teacher-evaluation systems that incorporated classroom-observation rubrics and a measure of growth in student achievement. They also agreed to offer individualized professional development based on teachers’ evaluation results, and to revamp recruitment, hiring, and placement. Schools also implemented new career pathways for effective teachers and awarded teachers with bonuses for good performance.

During the course of this failed experiment, Tennessee as a state also implemented the TEAM evaluation system and encouraged districts to offer merit pay schemes to teachers. Additionally, the state used a turnaround strategy for “low-performing” schools known as the Achievement School District. Data released after five years of that project indicates it has made essentially no impact on student outcomes.

Also, for the past four years, Tennessee has been attempting to administer TNReady — to no avail.

Tennessee policymakers are spending millions on education experiments that have yielded no results.

Here’s one thing that hasn’t changed: In 2010, Tennessee was ranked 45th in investment in education per student. In 2017, we’d improved — all the way up to 43rd.

Instead of directing funds to experiments that end up not doing much of anything, perhaps we should be investing our dollars in our schools and teachers. Then, we should also try the one thing we haven’t: Dramatically increasing our per pupil investment in schools.

Tennessee should be funding excellent teacher pay instead of trying to get and keep teachers at discount rates.

Tennessee should be investing in school buildings, to ensure all students have a safe, excellent environment in which to learn.

If Tennessee really wants to turn the tide, we ought to invest like it — ask teachers what they need to be successful and put our money there. For too long, education reform has been something “done to” teachers instead of done with them.

Here’s what we don’t need: Another round of expensive experiments that will leave our students and schools right where we started – behind.

We can do better — we know the answer. Does Tennessee have the political will to make lasting change for our schools through sustained investment in the people that make them work?

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

Keep the education news coming!


 

$850

Metro Nashville Public Schools finds itself in a bit of a budget crunch. NewsChannel 5 has this report:

Teachers braced for impact after Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph made the stunning admission that the district was set to lose $7.5 million in state funding, due to a unpredicted drop in student enrollment numbers.

A grim fiscal outlook for next fiscal years, means some principals may be forced to cut as many as 17 positions at schools where enrollment decreases are the highest.

For the first time in 15 years, Metro Nashville Public School’s enrollment numbers have dropped. District officials thought they would add more than 1,500 students in 2017 instead the district lost 500 students.

Nashville education blogger TC Weber offers this analysis:

The memo raises a number of issues for me. Joseph cites an unexpected enrollment decrease this year, which means $7.5 million less in state funds. Why the decrease? All of us can look around and see that Nashville is growing by leaps and bounds, so why is enrollment dropping? I’m not discounting that there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for this decline, but shouldn’t that be grounds for discussion? Shouldn’t there be a strategy to counter the pending decline in enrollment? Is this a trend or an outlier?

Joseph goes on to outline steps that the administration is taking to counter the loss. Steps that only make me more confused.

“All spending for the remainder of the year should be carefully reviewed and placed on hold if not essential to operation or to the implementation of our district priorities.” Huh? Does he presume that there are schools out there sitting on bags of money that they are planning to spend without consideration? Has this review not already been done? Shouldn’t this have been a part of the initial budget process last year?

His next bullet point talks about scrutinizing travel. Was this not promised last year? Did we stop scrutinizing travel somewhere along the way?

Here are some thoughts I’ve had as I try to digest this news and what it means:

First, how was MNPS this far off in projecting student enrollment? The district projections indicated growth of 1500 students and budgeted accordingly. As TC points out, Nashville is growing rapidly, so one would expect the student population to reflect that. Additionally, the team running the numbers at MNPS has been in the business for some time. Sure, they may not always hit the nail on the head, but they were significantly off the mark this time. In fact, district officials expected MNPS to grow by the size of an entire high school and instead, they lost the population of an elementary school. Why? As TC wonders, is this an outlier?

Second, in the grand scheme of the MNPS budget (approaching $900 million), the amount of funds lost is relatively small. To put it in context, let’s say your household budget was based on a family income of $100,000. Then, you learn that you won’t get the customary year-end bonus. Bummer! You’ll be out a total of $850 for the year. Yes, MNPS is losing less than 1% of it’s total projected revenue. If this were your family budget, would you freak out? Even if you knew you couldn’t count on that $850 next year, you’d probably make a few minor adjustments and move forward.

Now, I know school system budgets aren’t family budgets and that $7.5 million is certainly important. I also would expect MNPS to build-in funds for unexpected surprises — like losing an entire high school worth of students. Nashville as a city has the ability to provide excellent funding for schools. Instead, the city faces a teacher shortage and significant numbers of students shifted to virtual learning.

While there is certainly some blame to be laid at the feet of Metro Nashville leaders, it also bears noting that our state significantly under-funds public schools. According to Tennessee’s Comptroller, we’re short some $500 million as state in terms of what we need to properly fund the BEP — the state’s funding formula for schools. If that formula were properly funded, MNPS would see some $30 million a year in new revenue. Even if you account for the unexplained drop in students (and resulting loss of state funds), you’d see just over $21 million a year in new money.

The MNPS School Board is set to take up the budget issue at tomorrow night’s meeting. It will be interesting to learn more about why this situation happened and what can be done about it.

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


 

The Easy Way Out

While Williamson County has the lowest property tax rate in middle Tennessee and the lowest of any county with a population over 100,000, County Commissioners and the County Mayor are now pushing a sales tax increase scheme that will ultimately rest with local voters.

All of this comes about because the Williamson County Commission continues to exhibit a preference for low taxes and lattes over investment in schools.

Here’s more from the Tennessean on the sales tax effort:

Pushing for an increase in the county’s sales tax to help fund future school projects was a cornerstone of Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson’s 15th annual State of the County Address.

The final passage of the proposed 25-cent sales tax increase would be left up to residents in a county-wide referendum, but Anderson has been visiting the county’s six municipalities over the past several weeks in efforts to convince cities to agree to an inter-local agreement that would allocate a portion of new revenue to cover debt service for schools.

“The school system could see an additional $60 million by the arrangements we’re working on for three years,” Anderson said.

All of that sounds great — until you realize this is the most regressive way to raise revenue. Oh, and it has to be approved by voters.

I saw this scenario play out in Sumner County in 2012. County Commissioners faced pressure to raise revenue for a school system growing rapidly. The Commission could not pass a property tax increase. Instead, they put a wheel tax increase on the ballot — twice. It failed both times.

After the wheel tax increase failed twice, County Commissioners ran around saying voters didn’t want a tax increase at all, not even a property tax increase. So, the school budget would have to be cut.

Here’s how this movie ended: Voters turned out in record numbers in 2014 in Sumner County to elect new County Commissioners. The new commissioners promised to explore every option to raise revenue for a county that hadn’t seen a property tax increase in 12 years.

A property tax increase was passed that allowed Sumner County to invest in schools and other needs while still maintaining the second-lowest property tax rate in middle Tennessee. The school system now has a budget that is funded by the revenue generated from a growing county with a low tax rate.

Williamson County is in an even more enviable position than Sumner. Williamson has the lowest tax rate in middle Tennessee — by 35 cents. Each one penny increase in the property tax generates $1 million in revenue. A 10-cent property tax increase would generate $10 million — more than enough to fund this year’s budget request — and would still give Williamson the lowest tax rate in the region by 25 cents.

What Mayor Anderson is pitching now may sound like good news. It’s not a long-term solution, though. Even if it somehow passed, the sales tax increase and inter-local agreement scheme is just kicking the can down the road.

Here’s the alternative (best) option: Raise property taxes a modest amount — maintain your system’s reputation for excellent schools AND enjoy the lowest property tax rate in the Nashville region.

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


 

 

How Much for Schools?

Tennessee continues to experience revenue growth beyond budgeted estimates. The latest numbers indicate the state took in $112 million more than was budgeted for June. That brings the amount collected over budgeted estimates to $789 million with one more month left to calculate for the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, in spite of recent increases in allocation to teacher compensation, school systems still aren’t seeing adequate BEP funding. Every district in the state hires more teachers than allocated by the BEP formula. The state doesn’t provide any funding for the mandate of providing Response to Intervention. The state’s BEP Review Committee indicates providing funding for RTI positions would cost about $28 million. That’s about 25% of this month’s surplus. YES, for the cost of 1/4 of one month’s surplus revenue, we can begin providing funding for RTI positions. Districts should be demanding this money. The state can afford it.

As for teacher compensation, the state pays 70% of the BEP calculated rate — which is now $46,225. The good news: That calculated rate has been increasing in recent years. The bad news: That rate is still $7000 LESS than the average teacher compensation paid by districts in the state.

What does this mean? It means districts have to make up a big difference in order to maintain their level of pay. As one example, Nashville is struggling to pay teachers on par with similar cities nationally. Based on current BEP formula allocations, funding teaching positions at the actual average rate would mean MNPS would receive an additional $21 million for teacher compensation. Those funds would certainly help close the pay gap that plagues the system.

It’s worth noting that Tennessee has one of the largest gaps between teacher salaries and salaries of similarly-educated professions. Add to that the low reimbursement rate for teaching positions, and it’s not difficult to see why our teacher pay lags behind other cities and states.

To recap: Tennessee pays 70% of a pay rate that is $7000 below the actual cost of hiring a teacher. Fixing that by funding teaching positions at the actual cost would mean spending $343 million more per year. Or, about three months worth of surpluses. For another $28 million, we could also fund RTI positions.

Tennessee is on sound financial footing. We have month after month of budget surpluses. We also have a clearly identified policy need that would consume less than 40% of those surplus dollars. That leaves plenty of money for savings, other investments, or new projects.

I write this story year after year after year.

Policymakers can choose to address the serious funding challenges facing our schools. They can do it without raising taxes. They can do it while still saving more than $600 million.

This should be easy.

If providing excellent public schools is a top priority, the state will move to fund teaching positions at a rate that matches the actual cost of hiring a teacher.

Every candidate for governor should be asked if they support making this investment. Their answer will say a lot about the priority they place on public education.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport


 

Haslam To Fully Fund BEP

During the State of the State address on Monday, Governor Haslam announced that he is fully funding the Basic Education Program (BEP). Here’s what chalkbeat had to say:

In conjunction his seventh State of the State address, Haslam released a $37 billion proposed budget for 2017-18, including almost $230 million more for schools following a historic increase last year. Haslam said it’s one of the largest education funding increases in the state’s history and amounts to fully funding schools under the state’s funding formula known as the Basic Education Program.

Here’s what Haslam said during his address:

We’re fully funding the Basic Education Program including $22 million in additional dollars to help schools serve high need students and $15 million for career and technical education equipment. One hundred million dollars ($100 million) is included for teacher salaries, bringing the three year total since FY 16 to more than $300 million in new dollars for teacher salaries and more than $430 million in new dollars for salaries since 2011. Tennessee has shown it will not balance the budget on the backs of teachers and students. In fact, under the legislature and this administration, Tennessee has increased total K-12 spending by more than $1.3 billion.

It’s great the Governor Haslam is finally fully funding the BEP, which will allow for more resources going into the classrooms to help our students and teachers. For years, legislators, parents, bloggers, and local education officials have asked the Governor to fully fund the BEP. He finally listened.

Thanks for finally coming through, Governor Haslam.

Where do the funds go?

  • $100 million more for teacher salaries
  • $22 million more for English Language Learners
  • $15 million more for career technical education
  • $4.5 million more for the Read to be Ready initiative
  • $6 million (one time) for charter school facilities

I know many teachers will be extremely happy when they read the news. I know I am.  Now that it is fully funded, it’s time to make sure it’s fair.

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


 

 

Is That Even Legal?

Charles Corra examines the potential legal issues with Tennessee’s charter schools in light of the Washington State Supreme Court ruling saying that state’s charter law was unconstitutional.

He starts with this note:

I recently tweeted about an article published in the Nashville Bar Journal called “Tennessee’s Waltz With Charter Schools,” which commented on the potential unconstitutionally of Tennessee’s charter school legislation.

Then adds:

Similar to Washington, Tennessee’s charter schools are also private entities that contract with a school board and cannot be managed by for-profit entities.  The author also points out the similarity with funding between Washington and Tennessee charter laws: that the money follows the student. What is important in the article is the discussion that follows regarding the variance in success rates between charter schools (i.e. some performed well while others did not), which could be attributed to the freedom that charter schools have with how they allocate resources. The takeaway here is that, based on a study the author delves into, there are inconsistencies in management, operation, funding, and student achievement among charter schools in Tennessee.

The points, as Corra makes it, is that because of the way Tennessee charter schools are operated and funded, they could be in violation of established precedent regarding equal educational opportunity. No challenge to this law has yet been made, but the issues raised in the Washington case may merit attention by Tennessee lawmakers.

Read Corra’s full analysis of this issue.

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