And Now, Budgeting
In addition to finally approving the A-F Report Cards (with few discernible changes) Thursday, the State Board of Education will also be asked to take action on the budget request brought forward a few weeks ago. I addressed the budget then, but now I’d like to focus on three specific concerns:
1. The request for additional funds doesn’t go far enough. The proposed budget would restore weighted per pupil funding to 2010 levels, given projections for next school year’s enrollment. Unfortunately, nine of the ten years prior to 2010 had higher weighted per pupil allocations. That’s not even adjusting for inflation and the cost of living. The cumulative effects of fiscal austerity are simply not understood by the SDE and the legislature, both of which continue to try to find efficiencies in this grossly underfunded, yet core state service. Compounding this is the fact that school districts are not equally equipped to meet needs that arise in terms of facilities, transportation, and technology.
2. The request for additional professional development money does not protect school districts from having the SDE determine how best to spend those funds. The proposed budget includes a slight increase in AP funds, $2.5 million in new staff development money for schools, and $5 million for REAC3H coaches. Unfortunately, with the first two items, there is no guarantee that school districts will have any say in how they spend that money. Last year, the SDE took all the AP money and sunk it into the Vision 2020 conference. And the staff development money could be re-routed on behalf of school districts into statewide initiatives. The money for REAC3H coaches could also be better spent. The SDE likes bringing in expensive big name national speakers (such as Bill Daggett). However, schools don’t have the funds to spend on his training and conferences. We all know that focused, sustained professional development makes a difference. We know that opportunities to collaborate create meaningful positive change in schools. Unfortunately, these types of professional development are not prioritized in this budget.
3. The state is poised to spend $6 million more next year on testing than ever before. This represents an increase of 46%. What will this increase bring us? Better instruction? Hardly! The SDE can’t even manage to award a testing contract. The EOI vendor is making promises of new benchmark tests, then changing the deliverables on those tests. Is this worth $5 million more that could be spent on any number of more worthwhile things.
These three concerns don’t include ongoing doubts about the sustainability of programs like Reading Sufficiency and ACE Remediation. Both of these initiatives aimed at student remediation continue to receive funding at levels lower than what the statutes call for. And in the case of RSA, what funding districts do receive is typically allocated after the school year has started and districts have already planned, to the extent possible, use of those funds.
Of course, the Legislature doesn’t have to give the SDE what they ask for. Additionally, given some of the frustration expressed in May and throughout the summer over Barresi’s circumvention of legislative intent, it would be surprising to see them give her all the freedom she is asking for. Most importantly, we have to hope that the request for an increase is at least heeded at the Capitol.