Improving Schools During Austere Times
By Pam Goins, CSG Director of Education Policy
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes “budgets reflect our values, they reflect our priorities.”
In these tough economic times, 37 of 46 states surveyed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have cut education funding; at least 30 of those states are funding schools at lower levels than they did in 2008.
But Duncan, in an interview with MSNBC in July 2011, noted how some schools continue to strive for excellence in academics despite these tough economic times.
“You see some states and some districts that in these tough economic times are being very creative and doing some really innovative things, others are paralyzed ... this is a test of leadership,” he said.
State policymakers will get some ideas to making improvements in public education—such as raising metrics of academic success, pushing for progress in low-performing schools and raising the bar on teacher and leader effectiveness—despite funding disparities during the CSG Education Policy Task Force session at The Council of State Governments’ National Leadership Conference May 18.
Chris Tessone, director of finance and operations at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, will share strategies and techniques for promoting educational efficiency and stretching school funds.
“The challenge for education policymakers is not only to cut carefully so as not to harm student learning, but, better yet, to transform these fiscal woes into reform opportunities to cut smartly and thereby help our schools and students emerge stronger than ever,” Tessone and his colleagues note in a recent policy brief by the Fordham Institute.
The brief offers 15 strategies for stretching the school dollar. Among them, policymakers can:
End “last-hired, first-fired” practices;
Remove class size mandates;
Remove seat time requirements;
Create a rigorous teacher evaluation system; and
Eliminate excess spending on small schools and small districts.
In the Center for American Progress’ paper, “Return on Educational Investment: A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity,” Boser writes that states must engage in a conversation about the academic achievement a school district produces relative to its educational spending. He notes that states and districts must be encouraged to embrace approaches that make it easier to create and sustain educational efficiencies.
Recommendations include reforming school management systems, encouraging smarter, fairer approaches to school funding such as student-based funding policies, and reporting reliable, high-quality information on educational outcomes, operations and finance.