The Pot We Watch
I predict that tomorrow, the sun will come up. It will probably be hidden behind clouds, but it will be there nonetheless. I have faith (or a basic grasp of science).
I also predict the State Board of Education will hold its monthly meeting as scheduled. Since schools have been informed that the release of A-F Report Cards has been postponed, I will go out on a limb and say that they’re going to talk about that.
I doubt, however, the SBE will have a discussion about other key resources and pieces of information that remain unavailable to schools. Allow me…
State Averages – In addition to finally having report card grades finalized, schools would like to know the state averages for the tests they had students take six months ago. With so many of the cut scores moving as they did, having that information would be helpful in giving data reports to school boards. Numbers always need context. If our scores went down in Biology, but we’re still above the state average, then that can be a reference point. Not only do we want to see improvement in our test scores each year; we want to see improvement relative to state averages.
Waiver Designations – The A-F Report Cards are but the first hammer to drop. To be honest, they are little more than a marketing tool. If you have a good grade, you promote that to your community. You put a banner up at the local Chamber of Commerce. If you have a bad grade, the SDE calls you names and tells the world you have failed the children, which probably isn’t accurate.
Oklahoma’s waiver to No Child Left Behind, however, comes with some action items for low-performing schools. Not only can schools be placed on the Targeted Intervention Schools list with a D or the Priority Schools list with an F, they can be placed on the Focus School list with a higher grade. All it takes is for one of the three designated subgroups to score lower than 90 percent of the state. At this point, schools literally have no way of knowing whether they are on these lists (although to be fair, schools remaining in the D or F range during all the flip-flopping of the last couple of weeks pretty much know). Halfway through the year is a little late to have schools start jumping through the hoops that come with these labels.
On a related note, I suppose schools might like to know if they have landed on either of the reward lists so they can receive “flexibility incentives.” Last year, though, only 14 of 229 eligible schools applied to receive their reward.
RSA Money – In case you somehow missed it, this is the year that Oklahoma’s third grade retention law (the Reading Sufficiency Act) kicks in. It sure would be nice if the funding allocated by the legislature were available to schools now. They’ve done their part, completing beginning of the year reports. They even have plans for using those funds to help their struggling readers. Many, in the absence of an allocation, have put those plans into motion anyway, hoping the funding catches up. The problem – as always – is planning with so much remaining uncertain. Without knowing how much money will be available, a school or district has a hard time knowing how far their scant resources will go.
ACE Remediation Funds – As with the RSA money, schools have not received one dime of support this school year to help remediate students needing to pass End of Instruction tests to graduate, as required by the Achieving Classroom Excellence law. This can be attributed, in part, to the delay in finalizing test scores. Allocations are based on the number of students scoring below proficient on the EOIs or on the 7th or 8th grade reading and math tests. Since the pot of money is only so big, the SDE has to have a final number to work with in order to make the allocations.
I get that. Life is hard up at the Hodge Building. It wouldn’t be that much of a challenge to do an estimate at the beginning of the school year, allocate half to schools at that point, and then make the rest available after scores are final, would it? Educators know that the longer we wait to begin remediating students, the less effective it will be. Plus, we are quickly approaching the winter re-testing window. It would be nice to get some re-teaching and preparation done before that.
Federal Program Reimbursements – We all know that the federal government has had its money problems this year. First there was Sequestration, a budgeting process through which districts lost about 10 percent of their federal funding. Then there was the Shutdown, in which millionaire and billionaire politicians played a riveting game of chicken (not enough brains for chess, I guess) while workaday bureaucrats took unplanned (and unpaid) vacation time.
While Sequestration impacts school budgets, the Shutdown should not. Districts have known the amount of their federal aid (Title I and other Title programs, special education, child nutrition, certain career tech programs) for a few months. They diligently planned and submitted their budgets. Now they wait patiently for those to be approved. This matters because schools do not receive federal funds in advance. They receive reimbursements for approved expenses in those programs.
Last year, schools did not begin receiving payments on their federal claims until after New Year’s Day. On the hook for huge personnel, training, and materials expenses, districts began to worry about cash flow. This year, understandably, many finance and federal programs managers around the state are worried it will happen again.
By the way, if you ever wonder again why districts like to keep carryover funds, maybe you should re-read the last six paragraphs.
It’s fair to say that the recent delay in the release of A-F Report Cards has Oklahoma school districts playing the waiting game. Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing slowing them down.