Looking Before We Leap

Unexplored concepts have been all the rage when it comes to Rhode Island’s education system (and the money that supports it) of late. Consolidation! Funding formula! State-level contract! South Kingstown Superintendent Robert Hicks offers an important directive:

In the short term, we should subject any proposals to these questions: How do we know we’ll get the results proposed? What are the obvious and not so obvious impacts? Is this the best we can do?
In the longer term, we should expand the discussion of a school funding formula to include how spending is controlled. This would make it easier to move into a new system. For example, Vermont’s funding plan has penalties for exceeding the state’s average per-pupil expenditure, a version of baseball’s luxury tax. This forces efficiency on districts in a way that encourages and rewards innovation, exactly what we need.

Consolidation may lose more than it gains. A funding formula could be disastrous if it includes too many exponents. Frankly, I distrust our state’s leadership so thoroughly — on good evidence — that I believe they should prove themselves in some manner before we embark on any consolidating changes. (Actually, I think most of them should be switched out prior to structural changes, but we work within the parameters that we’re given.) In the meantime, we ought to be pushing decisions closer to the citizenry that must suffer for them.

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Jon
Jon
12 years ago

Bob Hicks has been a strong superintendent in SK and it’s too bad we’re losing him. He’d make a good statewide education leader.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

In what sense if the funding formula an “unexplored concept”? We’re the only state in the Union that doesn’t have one!

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Unexplored in the sense that folks trumpet the concept as if it’ll inherently fix our problems without describing what it would look like.
There ought to be a clear and predictable method for allocating state dollars among the various districts, but upholding that notion, per se, as a cause without offering a general size and shape could result in a detriment.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

I’m not sure why you think it hasn’t been described. It’s a very specific formula.
http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText08/HouseText08/H7957.pdf

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

I’m not sure why you think it hasn’t been described. It’s a very specific formula.
http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText08/HouseText08/H7957.pdf

Captain Nee-mo
Captain Nee-mo
12 years ago

–Bob Hicks has been a strong superintendent in SK and it’s too bad we’re losing him. He’d make a good statewide education leader.
Oh, please.
Behind the scenes he’s a union puppet. Jackie Iaconno really runs the show.
The last thing this state needs for a “statewide education leader” is a career RI education bureaucrat who “has a good relationship” with the teachers unions.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

I am soooo sick and tired of hearing about “consolidation”, “fair-funding formula”, “single state-wide teacher contracts” as the cure-all for our problems. The proposals are merely crutches / excuses & diversions used by our “leaders” in an effort to avoid dealing with the root cause of our problems. To do any of them without first addressig the root causes is to put lipstick on a pig. As Mr. Hicks pointed out, Mass has been very successful in using 300+ school districts. Before we even discuss, never mind make decisions, consolidation, fair funding, state-wide contracts, etc., we need first decide (and no longer debate, as we have done that for far too long) on the following basic issues: 1) What is fair and sustainable compensation for a teacher? – Is it reasonable to pay someone ~$70k (not counting other goodies such as “degree stipends”) after just 9 years in their profession, which is the Private Sector equivalent of ~$103k? How many “professionals” in RI earn $100+k after just 9 years on the job? – Is it fair and reasonable that one single Teacher earns a good deal more than the income of an ENTIRE household of many Rhode Islanders? The average RI Teacher pay in 2006/2007 was $59,435 [NEA Rankings and Estimates 2008]. Compare that to the $54,735 RI Median Household Incomce (i.e. the income of ALL earners in the household) for 2006/2007. And many RI Households go without healthcare and pensions. 2) Is it fair and reasonable that Union members do NOT share in a meaningful way in the ever increasing cost of THEIR healthcare? As that astute NEA Assistant Executive Director, Patrick Crowley, mused: “Let me ask the business folks reading: is it a successful business model to lower your prices year after year even if your production costs… Read more »

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Thomas,
I’m aware that specific funding formulas have been proposed, but in common usage around the state, it’s a cure-all brand, as in, “What we need to save education is a funding formula!”
That’s not accurate. If the root problem were that certain districts are receiving too much state aid while others receive too little, then those receiving too much should be superb. They’re not.
Layer on to that the fact that the phrase “funding formula” is really just a generality for the actual allocations. In other words, what it means, in certain mouths is: “What this state needs is to give more money to Providence and less to suburban districts.” Those are the statements that ought to be broadly explored as part of developing a formula.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

I suppose it’s possible that someone is saying the lack of a formula is our only problem and dismissing all other problems, but the fact that they are is no argument at all against the funding formula.
“Layer on to that the fact that the phrase “funding formula” is really just a generality for the actual allocations.”
We’ve been through this before: The formula would give more to Providence, but also to Cranston, Coventry, Cumberland, Foster-Gloster, Barrington, East Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket. In fact, the districts that would benefit represent a majority of the state’s residents and students.
You could look at the formula allocations with all the place names removed. I recommend doing that, actually, as it takes the politics and parochialism out of the debate. A neutral and objective observer could understand immediately how the allocations are achieved. That is far from true with the current system, which is more politics than rationality.
If someone says, “I support (or oppose) the formula because it helps (or hurts) town X”, they are, in my opinion, missing the point of the formula.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Thomas,
The Titantic is sinking.
How best should we allocate our time and resources to save it from sinking?
Should we spend critical time and energy debating funding formulas and consolidation, or should we first attack and fix the underlying problems?
Said differently, should we spend time rearranging the deck chairs or should we first plug the hole in the bottom of the ship that is causing it to sink, irrespective of how the deck chairs are arranged?
And don’t say we need to do it all, ‘cuz the reality of the situation is that we end up with gridlock with that approach.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
12 years ago

George is right.
The General Assembly could eliminate the teachers unions – they have no right to exist here, merely permission by the General Assembly.
Let’s restore teachers to being real professionals. Pay them well, but in return for high performance, not longevity.
No more strikes. No more work to rule. No more thug behavior at school committee meetings. No more Crowley and Walsh dog and pony shows.
We’ll never get good public education in Rhode Island so long as the teachers unions are allowed to exist here, for their entire philosophy is opposed to quality education – like all unions, they exist to protect the slackers and the incompetent.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

George and Ragin’
Justin asserted that a funding formula was an “unexplored concept”
That statement was patently false: the funding formula is a well-developed idea both here and elsewhere. I felt compelled to point out the falsity of the statement.
For no good reason (but plenty of obvious and bad ones) RI is the ONLY state that has failed to adopt a formula, even though there was a reasonable one on the table last year. (One, by the way, that did not involve any additional expenditures on education, but I’m sure you’ve read the bill).
The “independent man” is sometimes a genius, and sometimes a fool. On this issue, we’re on a short road to becoming a laughingstock. I’d rather we didn’t add this to our list of failings.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Thomas,
Indeed, considerable time, money and energy was spent studying, analyzing and discussing the “fair funding formula”.
That was time, money and energy that would have been better spent dealing with the underlying issues I enumerated above (i.e. dealing with the fact that, regardless of how you fund it, we have an UNSUSTAINABLE cost structure, driven by Union contracts).
For the sake of argument, would you not agree that if the “fair funding formula” had been adopted, the end result would have simply been the equivalent of squeezing a ballon?
Providence would have received relief, but as some other district’s detriment. The total cost structure would not have been rationalized.
As you noted, the proposal did not result in increased expenditures (nor decreases), rather it was merely a reallocation of resources.
In other words, it was simply rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking Titantic …a waste of time on an inconsequential effort.
Actually, it did serve one purpose. It provided the distraction that the Unions wanted, thus the real issues of out of control contracts and collective “bargaining” were not dealt with. So in that sense, is was not a waste of time …from the Union’s perspective.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

George,
“For the sake of argument, would you not agree that if the “fair funding formula” had been adopted, the end result would have simply been the equivalent of squeezing a ballon?”
In a word, “nonsense”.
Again, 49 states have decided that a funding formula was necessary.
It’s time for Rhode Island to stop being the village idiot.

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

The only “funding formula” that makes any sense would be a per-student flat rate provided in the form of universal vouchers that parents could use to place their children in the school that they feel is best, be it “public” or charter or mayoral academy or “private.”
The General Assembly thus far has used “school aid” as a de facto welfare program sucking money out of the suburbs and directing it into the “urban” systems, which have shown themselves incapable of providing even mediocre educational outcomes.
While this has worked for the teachers unions and education bureaucrats, it has come at the expense of taxpayers, parents and children.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Tom,
Using your logic, 45 States have lower taxes than RI.
It’s time RI stops being the village idiot and reduces taxes (and associated spending) to join the majority of other states.
And how is my statement / question “nonsense”?
Is it not true that the fair funding formula as described by you (i.e. no impact on expenditures) does nothing more than redistribute the problem of an unsustainable cost structure?
Tom, it’s easy to redistribute money, particularly to areas with large populations (as the majority will not protest).
But don’t be afraid to spend some time and effort on addressing the real issue, which is uncontrolled and unsustainable spending driven by Union contracts.
Yes, it may be harder than handing out money, but most good things in life require some effort.
We can no longer afford sit around and “study” all the diversionary crap put forth by the Unions (e.g. selling equity in the Lottery).
We can no longer afford to waste time on such nonsense in a never ending effort to appear “objective” and “open to all ideas”. We are out of time.
It’s time for action. It’s time to embrace and enact the Gov’s proposals on Pension reform, healthcare cost sharing and collective bargaining.
When we are done with that, we’ll happily fiddle around with the Fair Funding formula, Consolidation and navel contemplation activities that are so high on some people’s priority list.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

I have yet to hear one coherent argument here why our current system of allocating state aid is rational, or why it is better than the funding formula’s system. I’m not even sure folks here understand how the current system works.
I have yet to hear one argument why RI should persist in being the ONLY state to reject a formula.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Thomas,
And you have yet to provide one coherent argument why we should change the current allocation, other than “other states have a formula”.
That type of thinking, keeping up with the Joneses, is what got us into the hole we find ourselves today. Witness the EP contract that requires their pay to be equal to or better than X # of other districts as opposed to what they (EP) can afford to pay.
What exactly do you solve by changing the current formula / allocation?
The argument against changing it PRIOR to fixing the underlying root cause of our problem (which is an out of control and unsustainable cost structure driven by nut-bag Entitlement-minded Union contracts) is that it becomes a distraction (like my name calling).
Imagine if we implement your pet project. Rather than dealing with Collective Bargaining reform, Pension Reform, Healthcare cost sharing, Teacher pay growth that is far in excess of the Inflation rate, etc., we will instead spend all our time bogged down on the impacts of the formula change.
Districts that receive a windfall (Providence) will conceivably be less incented to address the Spending problem.
Districts that lose funding will spend their time blaming their problems on the fact that they lost funding, as opposed to focusing on the Spending / Cost structure probelm.
The issue is a matter of timing & resources.
First on the agenda should be to apply our limited time & resources to fixing the root cause.
Once we fix the Cost structure issues, we can then move to the Fair Funding aspects.

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

>>I have yet to hear one coherent argument here why our current system of allocating state aid is rational, or why it is better than the funding formula’s system. I’m not even sure folks here understand how the current system works. I have yet to hear one argument why RI should persist in being the ONLY state to reject a formula.
To repeat:
“The only “funding formula” that makes any sense would be a per-student flat rate provided in the form of universal vouchers that parents could use to place their children in the school that they feel is best, be it “public” or charter or mayoral academy or “private.”
The only rationale I can think of behind some other some non-per capita but fixed formula (which I assume is what you’re advocating) is that the teachers unions want to lock something in so that a major portion of the state revenue stream will be available to fund their contracts rather than tax reductions and/or to the poverty industry.
In other words, a sort of revenue stream annuity for the teacher unions.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

George, If you want me to provide the argument, I am glad to do so. However, if you haven’t heard this before, you haven’t been paying attention. In brief, the funding formula is rational and fair because it is based on relevant criteria, rather than irrelevant political factors. The funding formula is based on two simple ideas: 1) each district has need, which is calculated based on the number of students, weighted by the number of students with special needs, such as the number eligible for free lunch, etc. 2) each district should make an equal effort to provide local funding. Some districts can produce lots of money with lower effort because of higher property values. Others must have much higher tax rates to produce an equivalent amount of money, because their property values are lower. The formula requires every district to make an equal effort, based on their tax base. If a district can fully fund their schools with a local effort equal to other districts, they get no state aid. if they produce more than is necessary, at the given level of effort, they don’t have to turn over any surplus. In theory, they can spend the excess on their own schools, or simply have lower tax rates. If another district, making the same level of tax effort, falls short of the formula amount, the difference is made up with state aid. Note that the state aid is totally independent of school district or municipality. (As I have argued here before, much of any aid that Providence gets will be generated by taxes on salaries earned IN providence by people who live elsewhere, but I regard this fact as irrelevant for this discussion) The current formula WAS based on need, but the calculations were made long, long ago… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

In other words, that giant sucking sound you hear is money coming out of the suburbs and heading to the “urban” districts.
Instead of tackling the causes of the problems – illegal aliens, anchor babies and “baby mommas” (what’s the illegitimacy rate in Providence?), the “solution” becomes who do we fabricate a superficially “fair” formula to extract money from the “rich” (suburbs) in order to feed the insatiable demands of the teachers unions and poverty industry.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Dear Mr. Wigand,
1) you seem to have missed:
a) the part where it is shown that some suburbs and rural areas also benefit from a fair funding formula
b) the the part where it is shown that a majority of students in the state benefit from a fair funding formula.
c) the part where you see that many of your fabulous suburbs earn a large part (in some cases a majority) of their income from jobs in Providence.
Independent of the above, are you really claiming that a child deserves less educational support because he or she is “illegitimate”? Are you really ready to visit the sins of the parents upon their children, and to deny those children the promise of equality of opportunity based on whether or not their parents are married?
Is there really nobody on this blog who is able to recognize the appalling indecency of this argument?

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

Mr. Schmeling: 1) What you’re really proposing is a backdoor statewide property tax. One that, like the income tax, is “progressive.” 2) Your “fair” is self-defined. A per pupil voucher as I proposed is “fair.” Indeed much fairer, for it will allow minority / “disadvantaged” children the opportunity to escape the dysfunctional and incompetent public education system and have a chance to enjoy a private school education – something enjoyed by such “progressive” stalwarts as Patrick Kennedy, Sheldon Whitehouse and Obama’s children. 3) Private education will always provide a superior choice because of the absence of teachers unions. Systems based on tenure and seniority rather than merit inherently gravitate toward mediocrity. If you want to help poor children, them give them a chance to escape the clutches of the teachers unions. And even without the deleterious impact of teachers unions, competition always improves the breed. All education would improve if there were more competition. 4) I was expecting the old “punishing the children for the sins of their parent” shibboleth thrown out by the poverty advocates. First, see #2. Second, subsidizing irresponsible behavior only begets more of it, and insulating people from the consequences of irresponsible behavior is a form of subsidy. That over 40 years of “Poverty Institute” sanctioned programs haven’t made a dent in poverty rates, which were declining before the “War on Poverty” began, is proof of that. Also, if we reduce the illegitimacy rate, stop being a welfare and illegal alien magnet, then we free up resources for the remaining children. 5) Your argument is premised on there being a correlation between spending and educational outcomes. The per-pupil spending in the “urban” areas is already way above other areas, with no positive impact. Washington, D.C. is the highest in the country, with the same result. So… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

TomW,
You’ve made a number of assertions, most of which I would contest, but I prefer to stick to just one point here.
It appears to me that you think that the education of “illegitimate” children should not be funded by the government.
Am I correct? If I am, I am quite prepared to stick to my claim that your position is “appallingly indecent”, and that the failure of anyone on this blog to condemn it is equally appalling.
If I am not correct, would you please explain your position? Is the marital status of the parents of a child relevant, or not relevant, to the question of whether the government should fund that child’s education?

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Thomas S.,
You’ve explained how the new formula would work, but you haven’t explained what it will accomplish and what problems will be solved by making the change.
Also, since a big part of your formula is based on “property values”, what do you tell the little old lady on a fixed income who bought her property 40+ years ago at a price she could afford but in the intervening years her property value has “appreciated” to some astronomical level, which has no bearing on her ability to pay taxes unless she monetizes the property?
Just because you and some realtor assign a high value to a town’s property does NOT mean the residents are wealthy and have the ability to pay for the UNSUSTAINABLE cost structure thay you choose to ignore.
Rather than figuring out new ways to feed the beast, why don’t you spend some time finding ways to put the beast on a diet?

Monique
Editor
12 years ago

And the erroneous premise of “fixing the funding formula” is that the problem is revenue, not expenditure. In fact, with local property taxes and the state sales tax in the top 10% nationally, it is pretty clear that the problem is not revenue but ill-considered and ineffective spending. Over-spending, to be perfectly clear.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

You are so correct Monique.
Unfortunately, too many people want to fiddle with everything but the real issue.
I include Tom S. in that category.
It would be swell if an individual of his obvious talents would apply those talents to attacking and fixing the problem, rather than dealing with the distractions.

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

>>It appears to me that you think that the education of “illegitimate” children should not be funded by the government. Am I correct? If I am, I am quite prepared to stick to my claim that your position is “appallingly indecent”, and that the failure of anyone on this blog to condemn it is equally appalling.
With all due respect, time to get off of your self-righteous horse.
I never said that, and you know it.
What I proposed was universal vouchers (say, 8-10 grand each) for every child in Rhode Island. The children who would most benefit from this are the legitimate and illegitimate children in the urban areas. You continue to NOT address this.
As for illegitimacy, single-motherhood is one of the, if not the, single greatest precipitator of childhood poverty. What is “appallingly indecent” is the Poverty Institute, its progeny in the “social service” industry and the teachers unions refusing to address this. We know why – impoverished people are the meal ticket that provides their paychecks and stream of dues revenue.
On a macro level, illegitimacy should be strongly discouraged both by society (yes, I know that’s “judgmental”) and by government policy. The
current system encourages it. Again, we know why.
As for Rhode Island being a welfare magnet, we have women flying here from overseas in order to give birth here, much less internal migration. Rhode Island is neither obligated to, nor financially capable of, serving as a de facto satellite welfare office for third world countries, no matter how desirous the folks at the Poverty Institute and AFT and NEARI are to increase their human inventory piggy-bank.

Andrew
Editor
12 years ago

Thomas,
As has been discussed in some detail before, the salary arguments you are making are based upon a very ideological view of economics that holds that municipal governments are responsible for 100% of the economic activity in their borders and that employers and employees an interchangeable cogs that can replaced at will, as well as an assumption that government is entitled to certain percentage of people’s income, no matter how well or poorly it spends it. Those are dubious assumptions that not everyone agrees are a sound basis for public policy.
But more relevant to the point of the original post, I know I’ve been hearing for several years from advocates that one reason we need a “funding formula” is to lower the ratio of property-tax to other-taxes used to fund education in Rhode Island. Yet last year, a version of the “funding formula” was proposed that would have either created a higher ratio of property-to-other-taxes, or else forced massive education program cuts around the state. If there was an outcry over the fact that the plan moved the property tax-ratio in the “wrong” direction, I missed it.
That’s a perfect illustration of Justin’s basic point. Leaders in this state say “funding formula”, as if the content of the formula doesn’t matter. And until advocates stop claiming that a “funding formula” can simultaneously do contradictory and irreconcilable things, there’s no basis to believe that the features of recent proposals that have remained constant through the different revisions — like the transfer of funds to a few favored communities like Providence — aren’t its real purpose.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

George,
I agree with you about property taxes, and their effect on people with fixed incomes and lower-income people whose homes have been subject to large increases in value. That’s why I think RI should stop being among the top two or three states in the extent to which it relies on them for education funding. The fact that we are goes a long way toward explaining Monique’s finding that RI ranks so high in property taxes.
What is your solution for lowering costs? Abolishing the teachers’ unions? Even if that were desirable, I don’t think there is any chance of it happening.
Here’s a thought: the first step in the formula is the determination of the appropriate per-pupil foundation amount. That means a public debate about exactly the issue that concerns you- spending. Shouldn’t you welcome that?
I have heard it said many times here, though not necessarily by you or Monique, that they could accept the high cost of public education in RI if it produced good results. I have spent time, over the last couple of years, in the General Assembly and elsewhere, advocating a) more frequent, rigorous and objective teacher evaluation b) content testing for teachers’ licenses and c) ending teacher assignments based solely on seniority. I view these as useful ways to advance the cause of getting more for our money..
You may think these are “distractions”. I think it’s up to me to decide for myself what I think is most important and most doable, just as it is up to you to decide for yourselves.

Sue Story
Sue Story
12 years ago

When 3050 was passed, it called for a fair education funding formula. The General Assembly spent over $100K on consultants to develop one, and, as Tom stated, it has developed one. It just needs the political will to pass one into law. Perhaps the lure of Federal funding in the stimulus package will be the stick the Assembly needs to pass this formula. If you check out Nancy Pelosi’s website there is a statement about accountability -“Funds are distributed through existing formulas to programs with proven track records and with tough accountability measures already in place.” (http://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/legislation?id=0273).
If we lose out on Federal funds due to the inaction of the General Assembly, all Rhode Islanders should be outraged!
We need a fair funding formula as our current method of dispersing state funds for education is arbitrary and unfair!

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

>>What is your solution for lowering costs? Abolishing the teachers’ unions? Even if that were desirable, I don’t think there is any chance of it happening.
That is eminently doable, merely one enacted statute by the General Assembly.
And even without that, universal vouchers will enable competition, and then the parents and their students will decide if the unionized schools are performing at an acceptable level, both as to quality and cost.
To use an analogy, universal vouchers will provide consumers with some “Hondas” and “Toyotas” in the educational sphere so that they are not stuck with the shoddy “General Motors-UAW” product as is the case now. And as that General Motors-UAW product starts losing market share, it will have to improve its product as well. So in the end all children benefit.

kathy
kathy
12 years ago

I agree with Tom W. Public education has failed our students in a big way. We rate just above Third World status. It’s clearly not for the children. Vouchers for competative school are where we need to go. A group of greedy adults have ruined education in our country.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Thomas,
As you yourself noted, a key element of the proposed “Fair Funding Formula” is a town’s property value.
So the Fair Funding Formula is hardly fair to ANYONE (not just the little old ladies on Fixed incomes or low-income folk) that purchased their house at a value they could afford but would now be taxed based on some perceived “market value” that means nothing to them unless they are interested in selling their property.
With respect to a foundation amount, I am in agreement with that. I think that is what Tom W. was suggesting.
I am a firm believer in caps (love s-3050 …but not strong enough), as we have LIMITED resources, despite what the Unions think.
And as Tom W. noted, we could easily deal with the Unions with a simple stroke of the pen. Let RI be a “Right to Work” state and implement collective bargaining reform.
Very simply Thomas, at the point at which we end up in bankruptcy, whatever “funding formula” we have will be irrellevent.
If and unless we put a full court press on fixing our Cost structure (which means saying “NO” to the Unions), all other actions are marginal at best.

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