April 23, 2014

Education Establishment’s ‘All Or Nothing’ Approach May Kill Transfer ‘Fix’

Friedman - ed bureaucracy against competition

The Kansas City Star recently ran a piece with the headline, “Private school provision could doom Missouri student transfer bill…” It certainly is possible that Missouri Senate Bill 493, which “fixes” the problems with Missouri’s student transfer law and creates a small private school choice program, could fail to be passed and signed into law. If this happens, the blame undoubtedly will be heaped upon the tiny school choice aspect of the bill. In truth, the blame should fall directly on the education establishment, whose all or nothing approach is bent on stopping school choice rather than creating an effective public education system for kids.

Saint Louis area school leaders have boldly claimed that choice and competition work everywhere, except in education.

In the private sector, choice does create competition in the marketplace. It works there. But is [sic] does not work in public schools, at least not in Missouri.

That statement was not made based on careful examination of the evidence or grounded in any factual proof. It was pronounced on the basis of protectionism.

Of course, the establishment’s opposition to school choice is not surprising. In 1975, noted economist Milton Friedman wrote, “There is no doubt what the key obstacle is to the introduction of market competition into schooling: the perceived self-interest of the educational bureaucracy.”

As it currently stands, the proposed private school choice program would allow students to transfer to a handful of small non-religious private schools that are located within the boundaries of an unaccredited school district. When I testified before the Missouri House Education Committee about this matter, I pointed out that state representatives from these districts were debating whether there are one or two private schools that meet the criteria for inclusion in the choice program. If anyone is being intractable or uncompromising on this issue, it is not the school choice supporters. It is the education establishment.

April 22, 2014

Few Students Transfer From Kansas City Public Schools – Thanks To Charter Schools

Kansas-City-Missouri-Downtown_at_Twighlight

It is always risky when you make predictions; but aside from the time I bet against the Harlem Globetrotters, I’m doing pretty well. I previously predicted that 2013 would be a banner year for charter schools, and it was. In a December 2013 post titled, “How Choice Changes The Transfer Dynamic in Kansas City,” I predicted that the inter-district transfer law would have less of an effect in Kansas City than it has in the Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts in Saint Louis. I wrote:

The existing prevalence of school choice in Kansas City will most likely make the impact of student transfers minimal in comparison to the experiences at Normandy and Riverview Gardens. If school leaders in Kansas City and the surrounding areas handle the situation well, this expansion of school choice could actually benefit the districts and the students.

To date, only 23 children have applied to transfer from the unaccredited Kansas City Public School District to an accredited district. Does this mean that the students don’t want school choice? Not really.

In many ways, charter schools in Kansas City have acted as a release valve. They have provided families with another option and made the prospect of riding a bus or driving to neighboring districts less appealing.

If we think about it another way, the low transfer number demonstrates the positive impact of charter schools. The nearly 10,000 students in Kansas City charter schools would rather stay in those schools than transfer to the Independence, Raytown, Hickman Mills, or other surrounding school districts. It is amazing what can happen when individuals are free to choose, rather than being compelled to send their children to a school that isn’t meeting their needs.

April 21, 2014

Collective Bargaining In Columbia, Mo.

Columbia MO salary schedule

In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court decided that teachers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Since then, approximately 30 school districts in the state have entered into a formal collective bargaining agreement (we have posted those documents here). Last year, the Columbia School District became the latest to enter into a collective bargaining agreement when the district and the Columbia Missouri National Education Association (CMNEA) bargained a one-year contract. Now, they are back at the negotiating table.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reports that the main bargaining point right now is “making up one year of frozen pay increases.” A few years ago, the district was unable to afford pay raises and instead “froze” teachers’ pay for two years. Thus, any teacher who is currently in the district and was there during the freeze is two steps behind on the salary schedule. Experienced teachers the district hired, however, were able to bring in all of their experience. This has resulted in different levels of pay for two teachers with the same level of experience.

As an illustration, look at the graph above. This chart displays the salary schedule for a teacher with a master’s degree in Columbia and other surrounding school districts for the 2012-13 school year (N. Callaway, S. Boone, Moniteau schedules are from 2013-14). As you can see, after the first couple of years, Columbia teachers should earn significantly more than other area teachers. However, the 67 percent of teachers, according to the CMNEA, who were impacted by the freeze are two steps behind where they should be (dashed line). Even with the “freeze,” the frozen teachers are still earning more than most of their neighboring peers.

According to the Columbia Daily Tribune report, the CMNEA polled its members to determine if they wanted to boost all salaries or make up the frozen steps. The former would give raises to all teachers, while the latter would only impact the 67 percent of teachers who were impacted by the salary freeze. Interestingly, 80 percent of CMNEA members “asked the bargaining team to prioritize restoration of the steps” over adding money to the base.

It may seem strange for teachers who were not impacted by the freeze to vote to restore steps, but if you know your teacher research literature, this doesn’t really come as a shock. Cuky Perez, of Stanford University, conducted a behavioral experiment and found that female teachers were relatively averse to pay inequities. That is, they are not comfortable with co-workers earning different amounts. That may be a contributing reason we have these poorly designed salary schedules.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how this shakes out in Columbia.

April 17, 2014

Pennsylvania’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program…Winning!

This week, the Show-Me Institute released our third and final case study about tax credit scholarship programs in other states: “Pennsylvania’s Education Improvement Tax Credit Program: A Winning Educational Partnership.”

The study’s author, Andrew LeFevre, is well acquainted with Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program, having served as the executive director of the REACH Alliance and the REACH Foundation, statewide school choice organizations. He wrote:

In 2001, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to enact a highly innovative public-private partnership in the form of an education tax credit aimed at corporations. Since then, the popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program has provided more than 430,000 scholarships to students from low- and middle-class families . . .

In 2012-13 alone, the program provided more than 68,000 K-12 and pre-K scholarships. “The EITC Program has accomplished what many have been advocating for years: a way for the business community to be involved in children’s education and provide more schooling options,” LeFevre said.

I encourage you to check out this new case study along with our studies about tax credit scholarship programs in New Hampshire and Arizona. I also invite you to learn more about tax credit scholarships by attending our event on April 25, “Expanded Opportunities: A Discussion About Tax Credit Scholarships.”

Lindenwood_Event_Banner

April 15, 2014

Unappointed Charter School Commission Undermines Intent Of Law

School Icon

In 2012, the Missouri General Assembly passed a bipartisan charter school law. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, the bill “could expand charter schools statewide while making it easier to weed out underperforming ones.” That was the intent of the law, to expand and to improve charter schools in Missouri. A key part of this effort was the creation of “The Missouri Charter Public School Commission.” Last year, the Missouri Legislature approved $300,000 for operations of the commission. Yet, almost two years after being established in state statute, that commission has yet to be appointed.

Senate Bill 576 (2012) states the “commission shall consist of nine members appointed by the governor, by and with the advice and consent of the senate.” The governor is to select four candidates, from slates that the commissioner of education, the commissioner of higher education, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the speaker of the House of Representatives provide. The governor appoints the remaining five candidates, but one must be selected from a slate that the Missouri School Boards Association provides.

The commission would play an important and needed role.  Like universities, it could sponsor and oversee charter schools, but it also could serve as an important safeguard. The Southeast Missourian noted, “Under current law, the State Board of Education can suspend a charter school sponsor, but the board then takes responsibility for the schools.” The passed and signed legislation “would make the Missouri Charter Public School Commission responsible for those schools.”

By not appointing this commission, the intent of the law is not being fulfilled. I’m told that the slates have been submitted, but still no appointments have been made.  There is no reason to delay these appointments further.

April 14, 2014

Proactive Is The New Reactive

There is a lot of talk these days in Jefferson City about being proactive in public schools. Currently, when a school drops below a set performance mark, the district becomes unaccredited. Students are then able to transfer out of the district to a nearby accredited one. Many view this as a reactive, nuclear option. What we need, they say, is early intervention. We need to be proactive when a school starts to struggle. I hate to get tied up in semantics, but by definition, targeting schools that are struggling is reactive, not proactive. It is a reaction to their declining performance.

Lawmakers have their hearts in the right place, but they place too much confidence in their ability to dictate solutions from Jefferson City. After I testified before the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee about the student transfer issue, one representative asked me what lawmakers should do to help those struggling school districts.

“What advice would you give us?” she asked.

“I would tell you that you cannot mandate excellence and you cannot dictate innovation,” I said.

“You would have us do nothing?” she asked.

“No, I would have you get out of the way,” I said. “Remove unnecessary restrictions and burdensome regulations. Free the local schools to innovate.”

Missouri could:

Reform teacher tenure policies; remove Last In, First Out provisions; and reform teacher pensions so schools have more flexibility in staffing decisions.

Change seat time and class restrictions that inhibit some blended learning and online learning models.

Try something like Kentucky’s “Districts of Innovation,” where school districts can become “exempt from certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions.”

Responding to government failure with more government action is not being proactive. Policies like the ones cited above are proactive. They put the power into the hands of the school leaders on the ground. A proactive system is one that gives school leaders the freedom to be innovative and gives parents the ability to choose.

April 11, 2014

Mark Your Calendars For Our April 25 Tax Credit Scholarship Event

Lindenwood_Event_Banner

When I speak about tax credit scholarships, I get a lot of questions: What is a tax credit scholarship? How would that work? What are the chances of that passing in Missouri?

If you want to find out the answer to these and other questions, join us on April 25 at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. We are partnering with the Hammond Institute for Free Enterprise at Lindenwood University to present a dynamite event, “Expanded Opportunities: A Discussion About Tax Credit Scholarships.”

Jason Bedrick, of the Cato Institute, and Jonathan Butcher, of the Goldwater Institute, will present information about how these programs are working in other states. You can download their recent case studies for the Show-Me Institute about the New Hampshire and Arizona programs directly from our website.

Attendees also will be able to take part in a panel discussion with Missouri Sen. John Lamping (R-Dist. 24), Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-Dist. 14), Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones (R-Dist. 110), and Rep. Michael Butler (D-Dist. 79).

RSVP online, mark your calendars, tell your friends, and join us on April 25.

April 10, 2014

Let’s Fix The Transfer Problem ‘One Piece At A Time’

One Piece at a Time” is one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. In the song, a young man goes to “workin’ on a ‘sembly line” in a Detroit auto plant. He devises a plan to build a car by sneaking parts out one piece at a time. In the end, he has created a “’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’56, ’57, ’58, ’59 automobile.” I was reminded of this song as I drafted my testimony for Missouri Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bills 493, 485, 495, 516, 534, 545, 595, 616, 624. It wasn’t just the name of the bill that reminded me of the song, but the way that so many different parts that seemingly do not go together were crammed into one bill.

Though the bill touches on many different topics, I tried to limit my testimony to the crux of the bill — the student transfer issue. As I said in my testimony:

Ever since the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a student’s right to transfer from an unaccredited school district to a nearby accredited one, Missouri school leaders have coordinated efforts to put an end to the transfer law. Some concerns regarding the transfer program hold merit. For instance, the current law has the potential to lead to the bankruptcy of unaccredited districts or to lead to overcrowding in accredited ones. Unfortunately, these problems have led many to ask, “How can we end student transfers?” rather than, “How can we make the transfer law work for students?”

Missouri Sen. David Pearce (R-Dist. 21) reiterated this point, stating that this bill is intended to reduce the number of students transferring.

Allowing students to choose their school is a good thing and we can make this program work for students if we institute four changes.

  1. Give accredited school districts the right to determine how many students they will accept.
  2. Fix the tuition calculation so that unaccredited districts will not be forced to pay rates that are higher than they spend themselves.
  3. Expand choice to private schools in the same or adjoining counties.
  4. Establish a fund to provide transportation for transfer students. Appropriations from general revenue and donations from the public could fund this.

You can read more details about my suggestions in my full testimony.

April 8, 2014

New On Show-Me Sunshine: School District Collective Bargaining Agreements

In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court overruled 60 years of case law and determined that teachers have the right to organize and collectively bargain. At the Show-Me Institute, we wanted to determine how many districts have entered into collective bargaining agreements (CBA), so we requested CBAs from every public school district in Missouri with more than 1,000 students. Approximately one-fifth of the districts we contacted have a formal CBA. In the interest of transparency, we have posted those agreements online here.

April 4, 2014

The Myth Of The ‘No Tax Increase’ Bond Issue

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” is a common phrase in economics. It is a phrase that people must remember when considering “no tax increase” bond issues.

Bonds are one of the most common ways for school districts to fund construction of new buildings. They are essentially a loan and are a form of debt. To pay for this debt, school districts levy property taxes. Sometimes districts must levy new taxes to finance a bond and other times they are able to refinance an existing bond and hold the tax levy at the same rate. The latter often are labeled as “no tax increase” bond issues; but make no mistake, there is no such thing as “no tax increase” bond issue.

As I explain in this edition of “Show-Me Now,” a “no tax increase” bond issue is a lot like a home equity loan. Your mortgage company can refinance your loan to give you access to cash right now. Often, they are able to do this while holding your payment the same, but extending the length of your repayment. So instead of your payments ending in 10 years, they may be extended to 30 years. Whether you refinance or not, your monthly payment remains the same.

Bonds work in much the same way and school districts can “refinance” to extend the term of the bond. They market this to the public as a “no tax increase” bond issue and claim that your payment will not go down or up whether the issue passes or not. Your tax payment will not change, but you will be paying for a longer period of time.

There is no getting around it, paying the same rate for a longer period of time is a tax increase. Therefore, it is more appropriate to call these a “no tax levy increase” bond issue.

April 2, 2014

New Documentary Highlights Criticism Of Common Core

On Monday, the Home School Legal Defense Association released a documentary about the Common Core State Standards, “Building the Machine.” There is an obvious bias against the standards in the film, which means Common Core proponents undoubtedly will pan it as propaganda. Nevertheless, the documentary does present some pretty compelling criticisms of the Common Core development process and the standards themselves.

It also does something that Common Core proponents haven’t done very well; it treats individuals with opposing ideas with some respect, ominous music notwithstanding. For example, Michael Farris, founder of Home School Legal Defense Association, stated:

David Coleman [lead writer of Common Core] is a nice man…I don’t agree with his approach at all. I don’t agree with his philosophy. I think that on balance his proposals are not for the good of the public schools. They certainly aren’t good for homeschoolers or private schools. You know, I have some criticism there. But the man’s motives, I don’t think we should be attacking people for their motives. Because, he wants to try to improve the public school system. He genuinely believes that systemization and centralization and data collection are good things for kids.

His point was the underlying current of the film – people have deeply held convictions on issues of education and those convictions often vary.

The film ends with this message:

Decades of research show that the single most important element in a child’s education is parental involvement. So, regardless of which side you support in the reformation of America’s schools…Be involved.

That is good advice. In fact, it is the same advice Emily Watson shared on the Show-Me Daily blog about a month ago.

March 27, 2014

Spending ‘Brewster’s Millions’ On Missouri Public Schools

Brewsters Millions

Imagine your great uncle passes away and leaves you a huge sum of money, but there is a catch. To get the money, you have to spend $30 million on Missouri’s public education system and make a demonstrable impact on student achievement. Contrary to the plot of the 1985 comedy “Brewster’s Millions,” your great uncle demands results. Would you follow Missouri Budget Project’s advice and put the $30 million into the state’s foundation formula for public schools to make up for the funding gap?

If so, you could probably kiss your riches goodbye. You might be better off following Monty Brewster’s lead and organizing a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals. You could invite disadvantaged students to watch the game on a field trip. After all, one study has shown that “poor” readers with more knowledge about baseball outperformed “good” readers with relatively little knowledge about baseball.

All levity aside, there is little reason to believe that pumping more money into the funding formula will lead to improved results.

Let’s imagine that you do put the money in the formula to fill the “underfunding” gap. In the table below, I display how much Missouri schools would get from your great uncle’s generosity. In this graph, schools were sorted into deciles based on the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the state’s math exam (districts were weighted for size). As you can see, you would be giving almost as much money to the highest-performing schools as you would to the lowest-performing schools.

If you would not invest your own money in this manner, why would you invest taxpayer money this way?

I have never denied that Missouri is underfunding the foundation formula; the state is. This does not mean that the formula is infallible. The formula is flawed and is in need of change. It is time to stop asking how much money we can spend on schools and start asking how we can spend our money more effectively, so that we can truly improve the lives of students.

Performance Decile (1=Low, 10=High)

Percent of Funds Received

Brewster’s Wasted Millions

1

11%

$ 3,268,083.78

2

11%

$ 3,408,597.58

3

9%

$ 2,633,148.34

4

12%

$ 3,562,383.35

5

9%

$ 2,742,869.50

6

10%

$ 3,107,064.16

7

10%

$ 3,026,888.02

8

12%

$ 3,545,048.73

9

8%

$ 2,407,816.09

10

8%

$ 2,298,100.43

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