Beating Alabama

Governor Haslam gave his State of the State Monday and outlined budget priorities. Immediately, the Tennessee Education Association called on the General Assembly to improve on the small raise Haslam proposed for teachers.

Here’s the deal: A few years back, Bill Haslam promised to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay. That very same budget year, Haslam’s actual budget included no new money for teacher compensation. Since then, however, his budgets have included back-to-back four percent increases in funds for teacher compensation. This year, however, the budget proposal is for a more modest two percent increase. Should this budget pass as proposed, Haslam’s education budgets will have resulted in average annual increases in funds for teacher pay of about two percent. That’s not much faster growth than surrounding states. In fact, during Haslam’s term of office, actual teacher pay in Tennessee has increased by about one percent per year, very similar to rates in Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama.

Here’s what’s interesting: Tennessee teachers still earn about $3000 less on average than their counterparts in Georgia and Kentucky. But, our teachers are actually closing in on Alabama. Current numbers suggest Tennessee teachers earn about $300 less on average than Alabama teachers.

Of course, Alabama will pass a budget this year, too. And, it will likely include additional funds for teacher pay. But, if Haslam and the General Assembly were to double the amount of money allocated for increases in teacher compensation in this year’s budget, Tennessee would almost certainly overtake Alabama in average teacher pay.

Can we afford it? The short answer is yes! Revenue has been growing at about 5% this year when comparing year-over-year numbers. If that keeps up, we’ll see about $700 million in new revenue. Sure, some of that is allocated, but moving around $55 million to bump the teacher pay raise from two to four percent shouldn’t be that difficult. And, if we do it, Tennessee will beat Alabama.

I’ve lived in Tennessee almost 20 years now. If there’s one thing I know about my fellow Tennesseans it’s that we love to beat Alabama. Come on, Tennessee General Assembly. You can do it! You can help Tennessee beat Alabama.

Watch out, Kentucky and Georgia, you COULD be next!

 

 

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


 

The Verdict on Vouchers

As the Tennessee General Assembly considers vouchers as part of the education agenda this year, it is important to look at the evidence. That is, do vouchers work? Do voucher programs lead to improved student outcomes. Until now, most research has been mixed, with some suggesting modest gains for students, while some studies showed no significant improvement. These studies focused on older, typically smaller programs.

Now, however, there is data on some statewide voucher efforts. That data suggests, quite strongly, that vouchers don’t work. In fact, the studies indicate vouchers actually cause student achievement to decline.

Kevin Carey writes in the New York Times:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

Voucher studies of statewide programs in Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana all suggest that not only do vouchers not improve student achievement, they in fact cause student performance to decline.

Some state policymakers (State Rep. Bill Dunn, State Senator Brian Kelsey, Governor Bill Haslam) are asking taxpayers to invest in a voucher scheme. These advocates suggest that a voucher program can provide a path to better outcomes for students. However, the results of statewide programs in three different studies indicate just the opposite: Vouchers offer a path to dismal achievement.

Tennessee lawmakers should take a look at the evidence. Vouchers just don’t work. In fact, they harm the very students voucher advocates claim to want to help. Instead of funding voucher schemes we know don’t get results, the state should focus on funding existing programs that will enhance education for all students.

MORE on vouchers:

Vouchers the wrong choice for Tennessee

What Tennessee Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

Fitzhugh on Vouchers

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


 

Much Ado About Nothing?

Representative Bill Dunn of Knoxville has proposed an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that purports to remove the requirement that the General Assembly adequately fund public schools in the state.

However, an Attorney General’s opinion published on March 29 notes:

“… the proposed amendments to the public schools clause of the Tennessee Constitution do not substantively change that clause.”

The opinion was issued in response to a query from Rep. Dunn regarding the amendatory language and the state constitution’s equal protection clause. Here’s some relevant discussion from the opinion:

The amendatory language proposed in HJR 493, if adopted, would do nothing to change the fact that any legislation enacted in furtherance of the public schools clause must comply with the equal protection guarantees of the Tennessee Constitution.

But the opinion also says:

It is, therefore, redundant to add that the General Assembly “as the elected representatives of the people” shall provide for free public schools.  The General Assembly cannot provide for public schools in any capacity other than as representatives of the people.  Similarly, it is superfluous to add that the General Assembly shall provide for free public schools “in such manner as the General Assembly shall determine.”  It is already implicit in the current version of article XI, § 12, that the General Assembly determines the manner in which to provide for the required system of free public education.

If the new language is “redundant” and does not “substantively” change the Constitution, then it would not prevent local districts currently seeking relief due to alleged inadequate funding from finding that relief through the courts.

But, that’s not what Bill Dunn thinks.

In his advocacy for the amendment, he noted that courts in Kansas and Washington had used clauses similar to Tennessee’s Article XI, Section 12 to require those states to provide additional funding for their public schools.

When the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that schools there required additional funds to meet the state’s Constitutional mandate, the reply went like this:

“A political bullying tactic” and “an assault on Kansas families, taxpayers and elected appropriators” is how the president of the Senate, Susan Wagle, a Republican, responded to that ruling, which was based on requirements in the state Constitution. Mr. Brownback spoke darkly of an “activist Kansas Supreme Court.”

In his remarks, Dunn warned Tennessee lawmakers of future activist courts that may require the General Assembly to actually follow the Tennessee Constitution.

Of course, he also fudged the numbers and claimed that the Small Schools lawsuits and the resulting BEP did little to improve education outcomes in the state.

So, here’s the bottom line: Either the Attorney General is right, and the amendment proposed by HJR 493 does nothing OR, Rep. Bill Dunn is right, and the proposed amendment would prevent the Supreme Court from finding in favor of districts seeking to force the General Assembly to fund a system of free public schools.

Either way, the resolution should be rejected.

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

The Biggest Losers

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a breakdown of Governor Haslam’s BEP changes. While this year’s budget includes an influx of dollars, it also freezes BEP 2.0.

Tatter explains:

Though the governor’s plan nixes BEP 2.0, it permanently increases the state’s spending on English language learners (funding ELL teachers at a 1:20 student ratio and translators at a 1:200 student ratio), and special education students, technology and teacher pay, especially when it comes to teachers insurance. For years, the state only paid for teachers to have 10 months of health insurance. Last year, the General Assembly mandated that the state provide for 11 months of insurance. Haslam’s proposal this year finally gives teachers’ year-round insurance.

It’s important to note here that districts are already paying for year-round insurance for teachers, now they will receive some funding for it. The state funds teacher insurance at 45% of the projected cost for a district’s BEP-generated teaching positions. Until last year, it funded 45% of this cost for only 10 months, now it will shift to 12 months. It’s also worth noting that every single district in the state hires teachers beyond the BEP-generated number. Typically, around 12-15% more than what the BEP formula generates. Districts cover the full cost of salary and insurance for all teachers hired beyond the BEP number.

If districts only hired the BEP number of teachers, they could reduce local costs, but they’d also likely have some pretty unhappy parents on their hands. So, yes, the Governor’s proposed changes do direct additional funds to districts. But the changes do not address the underlying problem with the BEP. Doing so would cost another $250 to $300 million. That would be the cost of adjusting the ratios by 10-15% for teachers. That’s not to mention nurses, counselors, and other positions. And it doesn’t include capital funding.

The BEP Review Committee has been highlighting these deficiencies for years to no avail.

Additionally, Tatter mentions:

Another carryover from BEP 2.0 is the eventual elimination of a “cost differential factor,” known as CDF, that 16 districts in five counties receive to address a higher cost of living. Reducing the CDF would cut state spending by about $34.7 million. Almost half of that money would have gone to Shelby County Schools and the municipal districts in Shelby County. Other counties that would be impacted are Davidson, Anderson, Williamson and Sullivan.

While BEP 2.0 envisioned elimination of the CDF, it also envisioned the state covering 75% of teacher salaries for BEP-generated teachers. The Haslam changes makes the current 70% permanent.

Here are the districts losing money under the CDF elimination. The CDF is cut in half for the upcoming year and then completely eliminated in 2017-18.

Shelby
             30,873,136
Davidson
             17,570,727
Williamson
             11,073,924
Bartlett
                2,111,966
Collierville
                2,007,525
Germantown
                1,411,972
Franklin SSD
                1,260,978
Arlington
                1,169,503
Millington
                   672,030
Anderson
                   473,867
Oak Ridge
                   320,368
Lakeland
                   243,331
Sullivan
                      78,161
Clinton City
                      72,903
Kingsport
                      54,638
Bristol City
                      30,682
Total
69,425,713

It’s not clear whether these changes will impact the current lawsuits regarding funding adequacy. And the additional funds still don’t address the unfunded RTI mandate.

The ultimate impact of the changes will take a few years to determine. However, without significant structural changes, it is difficult to see this “new BEP” adequately meeting the needs of Tennessee’s schools.

More on the BEP:

Bill Dunn Wrong

They Noticed

Clay County and the Broken BEP

Why is TN 40th?

About BEP 2.0

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

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

Clay County and the Broken BEP

Citing budget difficulties, Clay County Schools have closed (temporarily) and may not reopen until mid-November.

The Director of Schools, Jerry Strong, notes that the budget issues have been building over the past three years and have finally reached the tipping point. The County Commission doesn’t want to raise property taxes (the county is relatively poor, so a property tax wouldn’t necessarily generate a lot of revenue) and has placed a wheel tax referendum on the March ballot.

It’s interesting to see a school system close due to insufficient funds at the same time school systems across the state are suing due to inadequate funding from the BEP formula.

Moreover, the lack of funds comes at a time when the state is passing down expensive, unfunded mandates like RTI2.

It’s also hard to imagine that a fully-funded BEP 2.0 wouldn’t help address this situation. Under that scenario, Clay County would see some $450,000 in new revenue each year from the state.

While the situation in Clay County may soon see at least a temporary resolution that will get students back to school, it points to a larger reality: The BEP is broken.

It’s time to use the surplus revenue our state has to begin investing in schools in a meaningful, sustainable way.

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

 

 

Money for Roads but Not Schools?

House Speaker Beth Harwell is talking about using the state’s revenue surplus to fund road projects — but has made no mention yet of how the General Assembly might begin to fund the $500 million+ being sought by school systems across the state in a lawsuit over funding adequacy.

According to the Tennessean:

The Nashville Republican noted that state tax collections continue to exceed expectations, estimating the state could receive $400 million more than anticipated. With talk of a potential gas tax increase floating around the state, Harwell said that extra one-time tax money should fund some of the many shelved state road projects.

Certainly, investing in infrastructure is wise. But, so is investing in schools.

And since the state’s BEP Review Committee says Tennessee is about $500 million behind in funding its schools and since school systems are suing demanding adequacy in light of unfunded mandates like Response to Intervention (RTI2), it would make sense to use some of the new money to begin investing in schools.

Of course, Harwell’s #2, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, has already expressed his displeasure with school systems seeking proper funding.

The point is this: There’s money to fund some infrastructure projects AND to begin investing in schools — and it can be started without a tax increase.

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


 

 

Why Fix the BEP?

I’ve written recently about the growing state revenue collections and the corresponding request (in the form of a lawsuit) from school districts that the BEP (state school funding formula) be adequately funded – to the tune of some $500 million in new money.

But, some might ask: Why even fix the BEP? It’s a complex formula and besides, don’t our schools already have enough money?

The short answer is no. No, Tennessee schools do not have enough money.

I have gone so far as to suggest the BEP is broken and to explain the reasons for its current inadequacy.

Now, more evidence suggesting the need to fix the BEP. Essentially, it’s this: Since 2008, Tennessee’s “effort” in terms of percentage of state revenue devoted to school funding has fallen. I’ll show you a hand graph on that from the Education Law Center:

Source: "Is School Funding Fair?" by the Education Law Center

While an number of states began making improvements after 2011, Tennessee was not among them. Recent investments may have returned Tennessee to pre-recession funding levels, but not by much.

And then, there’s a recent report from Rutgers that suggests that when it comes to school funding, Tennessee gets an “F.”

From the Commercial Appeal:

The annual report card out of Rutgers University that grades states on how they fund public education shows Tennessee at the “bottom of the barrel” in fairness. Besides being one of 16 states earning an F for percentage of state resources allocated to K-12 education, family incomes of children attending its public schools on average are half that of children in private schools or being home-schooled.

“That’s a warning signal,” says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center.

“It becomes difficult to get the kind of forward-thinking reform in legislation if you have more affluent families not invested in this system,” he said.

The study looks at “fairness” in funding, including whether states allow more resources for districts with high numbers of students in poverty. Tennessee earned a B in the category, but Sciarra says even that is misleading.

“Because spending is so low, it really does not amount to much,” he said.

So, why fix the BEP? Because school funding in Tennessee is both inequitable and inadequate. Of course, making the needed investments would normally be a heavy lift, but with recent rosy revenue news, fixing the BEP (and improving the future for our students and entire state) requires only a little hard work and some political will.

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

Should Shelby County Schools Sue the State?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed says YES!

Here’s the basic reason why:

Education funding has been creeping up slowly, but its not enough. We’re at a critical juncture in urban districts like Shelby County, and the only realistic way we are going to find the funds to adequately support our schools is from the state. Local taxes are tapped out and the district has cut to the bone. And at the same time, the state has indicated very little willingness to adequately fund BEP 2.0.

More on BEP Funding:

Why is He So Angry?

Money Talks

Hungry for BEP Reform

Of Poverty and Teacher Pay

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