August 25, 2014

Missouri Should Stop Funding Ghost Students

Photo Credit - The Goldwater Institute

(Photo Credit – The Goldwater Institute)

Like most states, Arizona felt a financial crunch in the wake of the economic downturn of 2008. As a result, funding for education could not keep pace with the expected increases. An Arizona judge recently ruled that state lawmakers did not fund schools properly during this time and must appropriate an additional $317 million to Arizona public schools, immediately.

However, as Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute points out, much less money would be needed if “ghost students” were removed from the funding formula. A ghost student is essentially when the state pays for the same student twice.

In The Arizona Republic he writes:

“Arizona schools can apply for additional funding for current-year enrollment growth, but they do not have to adjust for enrollment decreases in the same year. Traditional school payments are generally not updated until the following year, which means schools get funding for students who aren’t in their classrooms anymore.

“As Goldwater Institute research has reported, the state pays about $125 million for empty seats every year.

“Traditional school payments should be based on the number of students in the classroom, with payments updated accordingly throughout the year.”

In Missouri, we often hear that the state’s foundation formula for education is not fully funded. That is true, but Missouri’s formula is riddled with the same features that create ghost students in Arizona. Schools are funded based on the number of students from the current or two previous years. Thus, a district with declining enrollment could get funded based on their enrollment from two years ago, while a district with increasing enrollment gets funded based on the current year’s student count.

In addition, there are several other features that do not allow a district’s funding to decrease when it should. For instance, the amount counted as “local dollars” is pegged to 2004 assessment levels. If local property taxes increase, the state should pay less to the school district, but they don’t. On top of all of this, Missouri has a “hold-harmless” provision that prevents state funding from decreasing below a set level, even if the district should receive less based on the formula. As of 2013, there were 174 hold-harmless districts.

If Missouri were to remove these provisions it would allow the formula to adjust to the changing demographics of our schools. Then the formula would not be as dramatically underfunded as is claimed. This would be a wise step, because we simply cannot afford to continue to fund ghost students.

For more on the funding formula, check out our handy primer.

August 23, 2014

The Pension Problem Non-Teaching Personnel Pose

In a recent post, Education Policy Research Assistant Brittany Wagner discussed a new study examining the large growth in non-teaching personnel in schools. The study found that over the past 60 years, schools have increased non-teaching personnel positions by 702 percent.

Besides their salaries, non-teaching personnel also accrue pension benefits through the Public Education Employee Retirement System of Missouri (PEERS). According to the PEERS annual report, “PEERS is a mandatory cost-sharing multiple employer retirement system for all public school district employees (except the school districts of St. Louis and Kansas City), employees of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, and community college employees (except St. Louis Community College).” Members of the plan and their employers both contribute to the pension.

Over the last five years, the unfunded liabilities (liabilities minus assets) of this plan have increased by more than $64 million. Pension benefits like PEERS benefits are guaranteed and must be paid out. If PEERS can’t make those payments, taxpayers (i.e., you) will have to.

One way to prevent a situation like the one described above is to shift these pension plans away from a defined benefit plan (PEERS) to more effectively structured plans like defined contribution plans, hybrid plans (a plan that is a mix of defined benefit and defined contribution), or cash balance plans.

Maybe the addition of new non-teaching hires over the past 60 years is justified, but maybe it isn’t. School districts are making the public pension bomb bigger, and if they aren’t going to defuse it, shouldn’t school districts at least give the taxpayers, who are ultimately on the hook if these pensions can’t make their payments, some evidence to support their increase in hiring?

August 20, 2014

Normandy Transfer: An Evolving Story

After Friday’s decision by Judge Michael Burton that Francis Howell, Ritenour, and Pattonville School Districts would have to accept Normandy transfer students, Normandy parents exhaled a sigh of relief.

They thought the judge’s decision meant that all children were now able to return to the three school districts they had transferred to last year after the transfer law was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court.

To their credit, this was how Ritenour and Pattonville interpreted Judge Burton’s decision. The two districts decided to accept all transfer students who had reapplied for the 2014-15 school year.

However, Francis Howell opted to accept only the one child named in the lawsuit, excluding the 350 other students who had reapplied for transfer.

Now, the fate of nine more Normandy students is in the hands of a judge. Attorney Joshua Schindler will appear in court today, fighting again for the rights of Normandy children to attend an accredited school of their choice.

Regardless of the judge’s decision concerning the several children named in this lawsuit, Francis Howell and Ferguson-Florissant should accept all Normandy transfer students.

Normandy HS

These children have made their choice. Their choice should be respected, not just because it’s legally sound, but because it’s the right thing to do.

August 19, 2014

The Transfer Law: Another Disappointment

Cameral Cotton’s children were deeply saddened when they learned they would not return to Francis Howell School District. Cameral’s three children transferred from Normandy School District after the state’s transfer law was upheld last summer.

Through a series of legal maneuvers, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the State Board of Education attempted to prevent students, like Cotton’s children, from transferring from Normandy Schools Collaborative.

First, Normandy was unaccredited, then nonaccredited, and most recently, “accredited as a state oversight district.” However, the transfer law, which states that a student living in an unaccredited district can transfer to an accredited district, prevailed Friday when Judge Michael Burton ruled that Ritenour, Francis Howell, and Pattonville School Districts would have to accept transfer students.

8-19 post

Cotton rejoiced when she saw the news over the weekend, only to learn from Francis Howell School District that the decision extended to just the children named in the lawsuit. Only one Normandy student will be returning to Francis Howell. Because Cameral Cotton did not participate in the lawsuit, her children will remain at Normandy.

Cotton’s daughter, Mar’Kita, dreams of becoming a history teacher for Teach for America. Her son, Mark, just wants to get into college. Both of these children blossomed at Francis Howell, and yet, they must remain in a school that, they believe, failed them.

If the transfer law was upheld for a few students, then it should be upheld for all students. Cameral Cotton should not have to wait for another class-action lawsuit just so her children can attend an accredited school. Burton’s decision may just apply to a few students, but the logic behind his decision applies to all Normandy students.



August 18, 2014

New Study Looks at Growth of Non-Teaching Personnel


Sparkly, purple, and lined with a shiny metal band, my retainer was wrapped in a napkin while I ate my school lunch throughout elementary school. “Don’t you lose that retainer,” I can still hear my mother saying. Inevitably, I lost it at lunch, and I knew there was only one place it could be.

Inside the trash can, remnants of sloppy joes and sour milk splattered the edges of the bag. A cafeteria worker, realizing what had happened, pulled the trash out and began to dig. “Here you go,” he said and returned the retainer to me.

I recalled the cafeteria worker who helped me find my retainer after I read Fordham Institute Research Analyst Matt Richmond’s report, The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach.

The report’s findings are startling. Over the past 60 years, schools have increased non-teaching personnel positions by 702 percent. It also found the U.S. spends more than double what Korea, Mexico, Finland, Portugal, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Spain spend on non-teaching staff salaries and benefits.

As the study’s title, and my own personal vignette, suggests, these workers are both seemingly underappreciated and overlooked. We know little about the non-teaching part of the education industry, except that it has grown at a much faster rate than students. One study showed that if non-teaching personnel grew at the same rate as the student population, American public schools would have an additional $24.3 billion annually.

This is not to say that schools would be better off with less non-teaching personnel, but if Missouri schools want to get serious about spending efficiently, then collecting specific data on non-teaching staff is a good place to start.

July 28, 2014

Decline In Catholic School Enrollment: Is Sector Switching The Answer?

In urban communities such as the City of Saint Louis, parents are able to send their children to magnet, charter, or public schools at no cost. All the while, tuition-driven Catholic schools are facing record low enrollment. The graph below illustrates the decline of Catholic school enrollment in the U.S. from 1960 to 2010 at the elementary and secondary levels.

catholic school enrollment

With rising costs of private school tuition and concerns about public school quality, parents choose free alternatives to public schools, often charter schools. These parents do not necessarily prefer non-secular education. As Carnegie Mellon University economics professor Maria Ferreyra showed, the number of parents who want to enroll their children in private [Catholic] schools is greater than the number of parents who can afford it.

For this reason, some Catholic schools “convert” to charter schools in order to continue serving low-income communities. In “Sector Switchers,” authors Mike McShane and Andrew Kelly analyzed this phenomenon.

They found that Catholic schools that become charter schools somewhat maintain their brand. They keep “…discipline, high expectations, and formation of moral values in students,” and throw out, “the financial issues that have plagued Catholic schools…”

The authors reached two conclusions: (1) switching leads to higher enrollment, and (2) switching increases minority student enrollment. Still, questions remain about how this practice will affect cities such as Saint Louis.

If you want to take part in the discussion, join the Show-Me Institute for the Friedman Legacy Day Policy Breakfast this Thursday. The event will include a presentation from McShane and panelists Matt Hoehner, Educational Enterprises regional executive director, and Corey Quinn, president of De Le Salle Middle School.

July 24, 2014

Charter Schools – More Bang For The Buck!


Whether it is chips at the grocery store or miles per gallon, it’s always good to get more for less. This is especially true in education. That is why a new report by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas is so important. A team of researchers, led by Patrick Wolf, Ph.D., calculated the return on investment of public charter schools. In other words, they looked to see if charter schools are providing more bang for the buck. It turns out they are.

Charter schools throughout the country, and especially in Missouri, spend less per student than traditional public schools. Charter schools, on average, also outperform their traditional counterparts. By combining these facts, the researchers calculated that the productivity advantage for charter schools in math and reading was 40 and 41 percent, respectively.

So, what do you call it when you get better outcomes for less money? I call it a big win for students, parents, and taxpayers.

July 22, 2014

This Illustration Of Missouri Pension Enhancements Says It All


Today, the Show-Me Institute released a new case study by Robert Costrell, professor of economics and education policy at the University of Arkansas. His paper, “Teacher Pension Enhancement In Missouri: 1975 to the Present,” illustrates how state lawmakers have consistently enhanced retirement benefits for teachers. These enhancements have helped create the system we have today, which has an incredible spike in benefits around a teacher’s 25th year and many other flaws.

For more information about pensions, I encourage you to check out our “Missouri Government Pension Fast Facts.”









July 18, 2014

If You Haven’t Registered For Our July 31 Friedman Legacy Day Events, What Are You Waiting For?



For a number of years now, we have partnered with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice to celebrate the life and work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. In his 1955 piece, “The Role of Government in Education,” he introduced the modern concept of the school voucher. He wrote:

Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on “approved” educational services.

Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an “approved” institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds.

Later in his life, he became an even stronger advocate for empowering parents through school choice.

This year, in honor of his efforts to expand school choice, we are hosting two Friedman Legacy Day events.

The first is at 8:30 a.m. in Saint Louis at De La Salle Middle School. Mike McShane, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, joins us for an interesting discussion about private schools closing and re-opening as charter schools.

The second event is at 6:30 p.m. at the Kansas City Central Library. Economist Mark Skousen will share stories of his long friendship and debates with Milton Friedman.

We hope you will join us for at least one of these events. For more information, please visit the events tab on the Show-Me Institute website.


July 16, 2014

Kansas City Schools Adopt CEE-Trust, Sort Of

In January 2014, Joe Robertson, of the Kansas City Star, wrote the following about the CEE-Trust proposal for Kansas City public school reform to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

The plan caters to charter schools — public schools that operate independently of school districts. But they would not be charter schools. They would be accountable to the district’s Community School Office.

Funding would flow through the district, and the school operators would maintain high degrees of independence only as long as they met their performance agreements.

The central office would own and maintain the buildings, operate bus services for all the schools and coordinate a lottery-based enrollment process with a standard expulsion policy.

In a Feb. 8 Kansas City Star editorial titled “Don’t Embrace Experimental Overhaul,” the paper opposed the proposed reform:

Sustained board leadership has been a challenge for many charter schools in Kansas City. We also question whether a collection of independently run schools, some of which would enroll students through a lottery, would appeal to families looking at Kansas City as a place to live. Strong neighborhood schools in a stable district seem a more reliable option.

As for the latter question, we’ve already written about independently run schools attracting students. But on June 26, the same Star editorial board heralded the school district partnership with Academie Lafayette, writing:

An unprecedented agreement with the Academie Lafayette charter school shows an encouraging willingness to be innovative.

Plans call for the district and Academie Lafayette to start up a high school that would offer the rigorous international baccalaureate program. It would be housed at the Southwest Early College Campus at 6512 Wornall Road, and could open as early as the fall of 2015…

The move puts children and families first and represents a radical departure from the often tense relationships among traditional districts and the charter schools that states have set up as alternative public options.

The Star at first decries the “experimental overhaul” of CEE-Trust, but just months later champions “an unprecedented” “radical departure,” which seems to amount to exactly the same thing. They write that this new option “puts children and families first,” but in fact it only does so for children and families at one school. Why not everyone in the district? What is it about the children and families at Academie Lafayette that warrants special attention?

July 8, 2014

I’ll Scratch Your Back, If You Comply With This Federal Mandate

Last October, my students learned a few vocabulary words — amendment, judicial review, and furlough. The government shutdown created what educators like to call “a teachable moment.” I seized the opportunity to discuss topics such as division of power and how a bill becomes a law. Overwhelmingly, I was asked the same question, “If the federal government is shut down, why am I at school?”

My students then received a lesson about the 10th amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Because education is not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, education is a power that belongs to the states.

Tell that to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The U.S. Department of Education unveiled its 50-state strategy on Monday. The strategy, a neglected measure of the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), readdresses the uneven distribution of effective teachers across low- and high-poverty schools. It requires states to create new plans that address teacher distribution by April 2015, and Missouri is not immune.

For fewer than half the states that submitted plans post-NCLB, many have not been updated in several years. Below is a table from Missouri’s original analysis identifying core academic subjects (math, science, etc.) taught by highly qualified teachers. The data, though last revised in 2006, shows a lower percentage of highly qualified teachers in high-poverty schools.

core acadmic highly qualified percentages

Missouri is one of 42 states to receive a waiver from parts of NCLB, including the infamous accountability decree, “All students will be proficient by 2014.” In May, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) submitted a request for a one-year extension to the 2012 waiver. DESE will have to renew again next May.

Not coincidentally, the Department of Education’s requirement for updated teacher equity plans will have to be submitted one month prior to DESE’s 2015 extension request. The Department of Education gets equity plans, Missouri gets NCLB waiver. The Department of Education gets unified curriculum, states get Race to the Top money. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” seems to be the Department of Education’s M.O.

Of course, teacher equity is an issue that ought to be addressed, but the U.S. Constitution did not grant federal authority over education. This power belongs to Missourians. This whole incentive game the Department of Education is playing isn’t fooling anyone. Teacher equity may be a problem, but federal overreach is a bigger one.

July 7, 2014

School Vouchers: NOT A Party Issue?

how republicans and democrats feel about school vouchers

When it comes to political issues, Americans often are polarized, except about education. School vouchers are one example. In a recent national survey, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that almost three-fourths of Republicans and nearly two-thirds of Democrats favor vouchers. The difference between Republican and Democrat Party support was only 11 percentage points. Overall, 63 percent of Americans said they support school vouchers, compared to 33 percent who said they opposed the system.

The survey also found that more respondents perceived Democrats to oppose (54 percent) than favor (46 percent) school vouchers, which contradicts actual findings. This suggests that Americans may think that school voucher programs are a party issue, but in reality, they aren’t.

Last month, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bipartisan transfer bill that would have allowed students in unaccredited public school districts the opportunity to attend non-religious private schools using public funds. He called the bill, “a dangerous voucher scheme.” He also claimed Missourians do not support school vouchers.

Vouchers are simply a method of giving students educational options. Thirteen states have adopted voucher programs, and yes, Missourians seem to be on board (62 percent favor school vouchers; 32 percent oppose).

The bipartisan effort was an important first step toward providing opportunities to kids with few options — and it was neither dangerous nor scheme-like. Studies such as the Friedman Foundation’s show the majority of Americans (and Missourians) want educational choice no matter which party most closely aligns with their beliefs.

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