Category Archives: Federal funds

Washington Post: Congressional school aid is “motivated by politics”

The Washington Post, on the “aid package” to states, much of which will go to public school districts:

The crusade for an education jobs bill, led by the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress, has always struck us as more of an election-year favor for teachers unions than an optimal use of public resources. Billed as an effort to stimulate the economy, it’s not clearly more effective than alternative uses of the cash. Yes, school budgets are tight across the country, but the teacher layoff “crisis” is exaggerated. In fact, as happens each year, many teachers who got pink slips in the spring have been notified that they’ll be hired after all. Many layoffs could have been — and indeed have been — avoided by modest union concessions.

Read the entire thing here, where the editorial board explains the various problems with the design and execution of the package. Among other things, the post says the aid money should have been tied to reforms in school personnel policies. I agree.


A bailout for the mid-term elections

The Congress of the United States is on its way to enacting “Son of stimulus,” a $26 billion rescue package that will go to states and public schools across the country. States, remember, have balance-budget requirements, whereas the U.S. Government has the right to (literally) print money.

While the infusion of cash will certainly be welcome in administrative and legislative offices, to say nothing of the families of people who work for public schools, the aid package poses some serious questions, some of which touch on education and some of which go beyond it.

To take the broader perspective, it’s a good thing for states to have balanced-budget rules. But the federal money is a round-around those requirements. It is, in effect, a reward for states that have not practiced financial prudence.

It also means that states are more vulnerable than other to dictates from Washington. It seems to me that a lot of people who work for the public school industry don’t like being told what to do by Washington–think No Child Left Behind. Yet the new money would, morally if not legally, give Congress more rights to tell schools what to do.

Meanwhile, one observer calls the funding package, “pure political evil, a naked ploy to appease teachers’ unions and other public school employees that Democrats need motivated for the mid-term elections.”

Reformist president, meet status-quo chairman

Education Week is reporting that funding for President Obama’s education reform agenda, which includes pay-for-performance and charter schools, will decrease if Rep. David Obey, D-Wis, gets his way.

Obey, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, wants to cut funding for those initiatives and divert it to sending money to school districts that would otherwise layoff teachers.

Say what you will about the problems of federal involvement in education (see yesterday’s book note), give President Obama credit for understanding that the same-old policies in public schools need some shaking up. Neither incentive pay nor charter schools dotting the land will solve all our problems, but they’re useful.

If the U.S. government doles out money to help school districts retain staff, that may produce some much-anticipated relief among district administrators, not to say the households with public school teachers. But, to borrow a cliché, a crisis is sometimes an opportunity. If Congress hands out money without getting reforms, it will have missed an opportunity to bring U.S. schools out of the industrial age, in which seniority rules.

Federal Spending on Education to Double, and Do Little Good

Part of the “stimulus” (read: earmark-ridden, pork-barrel) package making its way through Washington D.C. these days involves federal aid to education. Lisa Snell, of the Reason Foundation, takes a look at the money and finds little good.

  • The stimulus package will spend more than double the current total federal education budget, bringing federal funding of education to well over $200 billion.
  • According to the OECD’s 2008 Education at a Glance, the United States [already] ranks number one in all education spending and well above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average for K-12 education. Yet, outcomes for students at the end of their public education career have not kept pace with these large-scale investments.
  • School districts have also continued to hire more teachers as enrollments have declined. The National Center for Education Statistics puts the current average teacher-student ratio at 1 to 15. There is little evidence that class-size is correlated with student outcomes, yet districts continue to favor small class size as school reform. This stimulus plan would also prolong the practice of generous defined-benefit retirement plans, which guarantee teachers specific retirement payments despite school districts ever-increasing unfunded pension liabilities.
  • These stimulus plans contain no incentives for schools to cut costs or reform the school construction bureaucracy by using innovative practices such as public-private partnerships to more efficiently build new schools.
  • The House stimulus package contains $1 billion for technology programs and $6 billion to bring broadband access to underserved communities that may include schools. …. [But] [t]he 2007 report “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2005” that in the fall of 2005 nearly 100 percent of public schools in the United States had access to the Internet.
  • It’s also important to note that 70 percent of 4-year-olds are already enrolled in preschool. States with government-run universal preschool programs also enroll about 70 percent of students, so it is not clear how many more kids the stimulus will result in enrolling.
  • It’s also important to note that 70 percent of 4-year-olds are already enrolled in preschool. States with government-run universal preschool programs also enroll about 70 percent of students, so it is not clear how many more kids the stimulus will result in enrolling.

A New (Charter) School in Town

The Parson Sun reports that Erie CUSD 101 would like to get in the charter school business. It will submit a plan to operate a projects-based charter school to the KSDE.

One reason for the initiative: to snag some of that $10 million in federal grants up for grabs.

“We developed a charter school concept around what we are already doing with project-based learning,” said Mike Carson, district superintendent.

Teachers Who Excel Should Be Paid More

The federal government is nudging school districts into pay for performance. It’s about time.

The Teacher Incentive Fund gives grants to districts that set up pay systems that rewards teachers in return for results. The Wichita Eagle runs a wire service story about the program, which mentions that several districts in Ohio will share the first $5.5 million.

The teacher unions object, of course: it seems to be in their DNA. The NEA smells political opportunism in the timing of the grants (and with “bringing home the bacon” an election theme of incumbents everywhere, they may be right on the timing, if wrong on the substance.)

The AFT objects that giving grants based on tests given at one point in time isn’t a good idea. They’re right, but the solution is not to ignore incentive pay–it’s to get an adequate baseline early in the school year, and then test later on. The union also objects that incentive pay doesn’t raise overall pay. True enough–then again, that’s the point: pay for performance, not just for showing up.

The plan gives priority to schools that enroll children from poor families. Good thing. Right now, teachers have an incentive to go where the pay scale is higher–and teachers who do a better job of raising student performance could be financially punished for staying in high-poverty schools.

Kindergarten Cops … and High School Ones, Too

Wichita schools (USD 259) will get a federal grant to pay for police officers in the schools.

From the Wichita Eagle:

The Wichita school district will receive a federal grant that could help keep police officers in middle and high schools.

The grant, secured by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, would give the district $246,807 — almost double what it is currently paying the city for the school resource officers.


Next time someone complains about unfunded mandates on public schools, it might be worth remembering this “gift” as well.