About the Proposed FY14 Education Budget
With all of the attention on A-F Report Cards, it’s important to remember the other issues of importance in public education right now. Just this week, there have been several interim legislative studies on all kinds of things related to education. I’ll try to synthesize some of that over the weekend into a couple of blog posts.
First though, I want to write about the budget that Superintendent Barresi proposed to her Board on Monday. With all the hullabaloo over delaying the release of the A-F Report Cards, nobody seems to be talking about this story.
The SDE, should the State Board of Education approve this budget, will be asking the legislature for $289 million more than it received last year. This represents an increase of 12.4%.
The largest piece of this is an increase of $234 million in the category of “Financial Support of Public Schools.” The note for this request is that it “reflects funding at FY2010 levels at $3,210.05 per pupil funding and FY14 projected WADM [weighted average daily membership].” While it’s a good thing that the SDE is asking the legislature to start bringing education funding on a per pupil basis back up to where it used to be, the mandates of 2014 far exceed the mandates of 2010. This is a small step in the right direction. The disruptive effects of low budgets for schools are cumulative in nature. Such an increase may help restore some losses, but districts may still be in a position of choosing between reducing class size, improving the technology infrastructure to meet new testing mandates, or attending to long-deferred maintenance in buildings.
The next line, calling for $2.1 million additional in instructional materials, is only a 6% increase. The main textbook adoption in the 2013-14 school year will be social studies. Those books haven’t been replaced in eight years. Since then, the state has adopted all new standards, and the K-12 course sequence has been vastly altered. Given that funding for instructional materials has never covered the cost of state-approved textbooks, this is far too modest of an increase.
Also noteworthy is the $2.2 million increase for Education Leadership Oklahoma. This request would fully fund the stipend for National Board Certified Teachers and reinstate scholarships for more teachers to earn NBCT certification in the future. I applaud this choice, and I hope the State Board and legislature are on board with it as well.
Another large chunk of the increase is $23.6 for health insurance benefits. Schools are gaining enrollment, requiring more staff. Insurance costs are increasing. (Try paying for an insurance policy for your kids as a support employee sometime.) This is basically a cost of living increase, or a lesson learned from a couple of years ago when the SDE failed to budget for benefits and had to ask for a supplemental appropriation the next February.
The slight increase ($97,076) to the Oklahoma Arts Institute is nice. The request to double the allocation for Parents as Teachers is confusing, with no explanatory notes. Then then comes another big chunk of change – a $13.4 million increase for “Reform Implementation.” This includes:
- A 19% increase in ACE Remediation funding – Considering the fact that ACE Remediation was funded at about 38% the legislated amount this year, it’s too small of a request.
- A 27% increase in funding for AP programs – Since the SDE spent last year’s AP funding on the spectacle that was Vision 2020, I’d like to know more about whether this funding would actually find its way to large-scale training for teachers.
- A 20% increase for Think Through Math – This is a new program of supplemental instruction that schools are using this year, and so far, it has good reviews.
- A request for flat funding for Reading Sufficiency – This is only flat if the legislature approves a supplemental allocation in early 2013. Otherwise, it would be a marked increase. Considering the fact that third-grade students may be retained if they are reading below grade level in 2014, this should be a priority rather than an afterthought.
- A 500% increase ($2.5 million in new funding) for the creation of the Value Added Measurement component of TLE – I’ll go ahead and say what I’m really thinking here: VAM for teacher evaluation is junk math. The fury over A-F Report Cards shows this, to an extent. Even bigger is the idea that now tests will be used for something beyond their intent.
- New funding of $2.5 million for staff development for schools – This will be welcomed by districts across the state, especially if they have local control over those funds (rather than having the SDE do something with it and giving schools access to services they may or may not want).
- New funding of $1 million for the Oklahoma Student Information System – This is probably needed for upgrades.
- New funding of $5 million for REAC3H Coaches – This falls into the category of services that districts may or may not even want. For those who don’t know much about this, the SDE used federal jobs money to hire 60 instructional coaches to work with districts across the state. They had enough money to pay for one year. Coaches were told this was a three-year commitment. Each pair of coaches has a set of districts that they serve. Some pairs serve one or two districts; others serve more than 20. The coaches spend a week each month in training and then the next three weeks working in the schools, providing staff development and modeling lessons. The intent may be to provide school districts with “just-in-time” learning to assist with the implementation of all of the SDE’s reforms. However, the reality seems to be that the SDE is providing districts with a bunch of well-intended and over-committed instructional coaches (who will be more marketable in a year, if this funding falls through).
The SDE is also asking to more than double the allocation ($1.5 million increase) in the “School Activities Competitive Grants Pool.” A footnote at the bottom of the page indicates that this will include programs such as Robotics, A+ Schools, Payne Education Center (for reading strategies), Great Expectations, and Street School. The footnote also indicates that this is not a comprehensive list. While supporting these excellent sources of training and staff development for schools should be a priority, the investment would probably be more meaningful as block grants to schools to improve professional development offerings. With the federal government threatening a 10 percent rollback of Title I and Title II funding – schools’ largest sources of professional development money – the need for money that schools control is more crucial.
The final major area of increase is in the category of “Administrative and Support Functions.” This includes two programs: agency operations and testing. The total increase is $6.6 million, or 29.3 percent. This includes an increase of 13.8 percent in agency operations and 45.5 percent (from $11 million to $16 million) for testing.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but the last I heard, some members of Barresi’s party want to curb education spending by cutting administration costs. How can these last items be in line with that priority? Increasing agency funding by a larger percentage than you would increase school district funding flies in the face of the belief that the farther you get away from the student, the less impact you have. Unlike many of the budget line items above, there is no explanation about why funding for the agency is increased.
There is, however an explanatory note with the increase in assessments. The new company is providing benchmark tests that schools can use for free. I have to wonder if this $5 million increase is worth it. So far, districts have been promised free EOI benchmarks to be administered in the fall. That was postponed to January once CTB/McGraw Hill was awarded the other half of the testing contract. Even if this testing comes to fruition, there are probably better ways that money could be spent.
Testing is not teaching, you know.
For now, I will resist the temptation to give this budget request a letter grade. There are a few increases that will help schools. Unfortunately, more seem to be geared towards helping vendors and fulfilling political commitments.