Monday, May 27, 2013

Will 2013 School Finance Legislation "Usher in A New Era of Excellence"

This is the third in a series on the 2013 K-12 education finance legislation.   In their book on "Doubling Student Performance"  Odden and Archibald warn that providing significant new funding to public education will not necessarily foster significant educational improvement.  They write:

"from assessing the research on the education system's use of new resources over time, Odden and Picus concluded that the education system, has used the bulk of new resources for programs outside the core instructional program -- not the best strategy if the goal is to dramatically improve student performance in core subjects.   .... From recent studies of use of funds after an adequacy-oriented school finance also seems schools and districts do not use new resources for strategies that we have concluded will have the largest impact on improvement in student learning, such as ongoing professional development with instructional coaches, tutoring for struggling students, and extended learning time"  Odden and Archibald, Doubling Student Performance.  

In the first two posts, I tried to put the funding this legislative session in perspective.   The basic formula increases are average.   The special education increases are modest, but welcome.  Districts will receive significant increases in the second year of the biennium, and for that, all of us are grateful.  In this third post, I want to begin to ask the question whether Minnesota will realize the promises offered by the authors of the 2013 legislation.   In a close-of-session press release,  the House K-12 Policy chair explained:

 "This is going to usher in a new era of educational excellence. Thanks to this bill, Minnesota is poised to reclaim our role as a national leader in education.” In addition to providing badly needed new dollars for schools, the budget includes reforms to student assessments and diagnostics, teacher licensure, and integration initiatives to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively as possible."   .

In her close of session comments, Education Commissioner Casellius asserted:

This bill is one of the most comprehensive bills in a decade, directing nearly a half billion dollars towards early learning, all day kindergarten, special education and other critical needs.  Those investments, coupled with smart policy reforms, will help us close achievement gaps.....and better meet the neds of students in ways that will improve the quality of education in Minnesota for decades to come."

      Which of these visions will be realized in the next two years.   Will the modest additional increases in funding result in "a new era of educational excellence" as Representative Mariana predicted, or will the funds primarily be used for purposes which have marginal impacts on student achievement?  Now that the legislative session is over, school districts will begin their bi-annual collective bargaining sessions with teachers and with other bargaining groups.   In past bargaining rounds, many school districts have negotiated contracts which consume all of the funding increases provided by the state, and many have provided increases in excess of the state provided funding increments.  When that happens, the primary impact of legislative increases is to provide fairer compensation for education professionals -- a worthy objective, of course -- while ushering in significant cuts in our ability to meet student educational needs.

    The decision whether this year's school funding legislation will be historic, or an abject failure, depends upon decisions about to be made when school districts make decisions about how these new resources will be used.     Those of us who are committed to using that money to "usher in a new era of educational excellence" must maintain a public dialog on how the increases provided by the legislature will achieve that objective.  In addition, we must reexamine the use of our entire education budgets, to make sure that we are using those funds consistent with best practices.  We may disagree with some of Odden's strategies, but we must have a strategic dialog now to make sure that decisions are driven by an appropriate strategy.  You can link to Odden's positions on how school districts can use resources to improve acheivement by Here Clickng Here.    Other strategies may be appropriate in particular communities, but what will not work is the old paradigm.  The old paradigm begins with setting the school budget at the bargaining table, allocating most increased resources to pay and benefits increases, and cutting programs to bridge the gap between labor and management.  If we follow that course again this year, this year's education bill will not lead to historic improvements, but instead will result in historic failures.

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