January 25, 2010

Educational Formulating

Marc Comtois

As the only state without a funding formula, there is certainly something to be said for putting something in place so that cities and towns can have some ability to forecast what they're going to have for education spending. That being said, I'm sure I'm not alone in having mixed feelings when I hear such things as this:

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist...points out that the current distribution is unfair, insofar as it gives some school districts too much, and other districts too little...“What I want to see is a system that in every respect, whether it’s finance policy or curriculum or professional development, is built around what students need and not what adults need or are used to having,” said Gist, who became commissioner last summer.

“This is going to require that some people step up and have the political courage to say to their communities, ‘We will have to make some changes … and let’s look at why that is the case.’ ”

First part is good, second part makes me wary. Adding to my wariness is the involvement of Brown University--"Kenneth Wong, a Brown education professor, and two of his graduate students"--in the formulating (yes, I'll admit this is probably biased on my part, but there you go--so convince me).
Unlike previous approaches that added more money on top of what districts were already spending, the new proposal starts from scratch.

Using a “market-basket approach,” the Brown team members added what they considered the most important elements for a quality education: the salaries of key personnel such as teachers, teacher assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, principals and assistant principals; books and other instructional materials; training for teachers; and a portion of teacher-pension costs.

Those elements form the basis of what the team calls a “foundation” formula, resulting in a cost of $8,200 per student per year. That figure could change if elements are added or subtracted.

The state average per-pupil cost in 2009 was $7,246, but that figure does not include $78 million the state contributes to teacher pensions, a cost included in the $8,200 figure.

Districts with large numbers of poor children would receive more money to address their higher levels of need. Education officials say the poverty level is also a measure for other student needs, such as special education and English classes for non-native speakers.

Sounds sorta redistributive, doesn't it? Under this formula, I'm guessing most of us will, and should, take an even keener interest in the urban schools. Looks like more of our money will be heading there.

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Posted by: john at January 25, 2010 12:57 PM

"State aid" / funding formula should be a per-child fixed amount, redeemable at any public, "private" or charter school.


This competition would give minority parents the opportunity to get their children out of the clutches of the teacher unions and education bureaucrats, and so have a fighting chance for upward mobility, and would help restrain the insatiable appetites of those same teachers unions and education bureaucrats.

Anything less is just, as you point out, a redistributive scheme to fund adult entitlements rather than children's (best possible) education.

The "progressives" already have the progressive income tax that is used to redistribute "wealth" from the suburbs to the urban areas; now they want a de facto progressive property tax to operate in parallel.

In other words, another victory for the forces of the mediocre status quo, and another reason for prospective employers to bypass Rhode Island.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at January 25, 2010 1:27 PM

As an urban resident, I take a little bit of offense to the sentiment behind this post.

Providence residents pay $26 for every $1000 of property, likely double what you do, and we do it because we host the universities, the hospitals, towers full of disabled and elderly, and a huge portion of the churches and other non-profit institutions that drive things that 'businesses' just don't do.

I urge to to consider what would become of your 'town' if Providence were to close-shop, shutter the hospitals, terminate the university charters, and ship our elderly and urban poor to you all.

Local control is great and all, but there are 'localities' bigger than our whole state. If anything, we're -too- localized. You can drive fifteen minutes into Providence, work all day, take your paycheck, and drive back to the suburbs without a care as to the cost of infrastructure (physical and economic) that allows your township to exist as more than a rural backwater. The state is a coherent unit, Providence is the heart of it, a funding formula that's part of getting Providence kids better education is crucial to your town's well-being and future existence.

Posted by: mangeek at January 25, 2010 1:28 PM

Mangeek, Thanks for the input. My point is best encapsulated by my comment that "Under this formula, I'm guessing most of us will, and should, take an even keener interest in the urban schools." If you read the comments section of the ProJo story on this, you'll find the educational nimbyism you're accusing me of. I recognize we live in a city-state and that we can't disregard what goes on in the urban core. However, we else have a right to be skeptical when it looks like more money is going to be thrown at an already broken system.

Posted by: Marc at January 25, 2010 1:48 PM

Then we're in perfect agreement. Just wanted to make sure the 'take a keener interest in' wasn't tongue-in-cheek.

BTW, you're the reason I post as 'mangeek', only room for so many 'Marcs', and I figure you had seniority. :-)

Posted by: mangeek at January 25, 2010 1:52 PM

--"As an urban resident, I take a little bit of offense to the sentiment behind this post."


Consider that Providence (and the other urban areas) have a hugely disproportionate number of children in the school systems who come from households that don't (on a net basis) pay any taxes, but consume them.

By providing a per child fixed amount those children will have a better chance at lifting themselves up than they do now, and there is a de facto redistribution built in just because of the above numerical reality.

As Marc observes, merely handing more money to the existing adult-entitlement structure of public schools in RI that has been failing children for decades is only going to perpetuate the problem.

And as for Providence etc.'s nonprofits and such, I'd have much more sympathy if Providence didn't hand out such largesse in its public sector contracts, have nepotism-padded payrolls and didn't engage in the outrageous disability retirement scam for police and fire.

But since Providence won't clean up its act, I'm not real inclined to subsidize it, nonprofit properties notwithstanding.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at January 25, 2010 2:06 PM

At the end of the day, the Rhode Island State Constitution directs the Rhode Island General Assembly to promote education. All revenue bills originate in the R.I. House, a body overwlemingly controlled by the Democrats and continously by them since January, 1941.
I could say many things here. However there is NO EXCUSE really not to have a dependable state aid formula for education. Since the teacher's union exclusively with some exceptions supports Democrats, which overwhelmingly controlled both chambers in the Rhode Island General Assembly since the late 1950's, one could argue this issue should have been settled or pretty much so.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at January 25, 2010 2:56 PM

Oh, by no means do I think the rest of the state should bend over and allow Providence schools to pickpocket them.

The funding formula should be part of a sweeping reform that brings compensation in line with performance and centralizes purchasing, health care, and pensions under a more efficient statewide structure (not the one just passed, which is a legislated hand-out).

The funding formula is the 'carrot'. There should be a 'stick' to back it up. Reform should be swift, sweeping, sudden, and comprehensive.

Posted by: mangeek at January 25, 2010 3:42 PM


Bob Walsh / Pat Crowley and the rest of the NEARI goons just stood in the way of RI attempting to get $100 million in additional funding, simply because they are opposed to any accountability for individual teachers.

Do you really think that they and their lackeys in the General Assembly will enable any "sticks" along with a funding formula.

The more that we can get educational decisions out of the hands of the teachers unions and their Democrat lackeys, and into the hands of parents, the better off will be the children and taxpayers of RI.

If the RI GOP had any balls, they'd run on a platform of repealing the statute permitting teachers unions in RI, and draw a bright-line distinction between those who support the selfish unions on the one side, and children, parents and taxpayers on the other.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at January 25, 2010 4:32 PM

Rage, I understand the... Rage, but wouldn't it be much better to make three changes to that law and transform it into a substantially beneficial cost-saving (yet still fair) one?

1. Make the committee more balanced.
2. Allow cities and towns to purchase benefits through a statewide account that realizes economies of scale, instead of forcing each town to buy their own.
3. Change the wording on the Min/Max allowed actuarial values of the plans the committee selects to be based on some sort of more fair baseline.

Right now the plan choices are going to be between 'great' and 'awesome', I'd like to see them span between 'average' and 'great'.

Posted by: mangeek at January 25, 2010 5:03 PM

Like "consolidation", the "education formula" is a distraction from dealing with the root causes of our problem.

Until we deal with the union problem, all else is spitting in the wind.

As evidenced over and over again, the teachers' unions could care less about teaching or "the children".

Bob Walsh's refusal to get on board with Race to the Top, along with his right hand boy Patrick Crowley's most recent whacko propaganda on Pensions are just the most recent examples of the utter uselessness of the teachers unions when it come to anything related to teaching or "the children".

Very simply, the legislature needs to repeal the collective bargaining laws that allow for the stanglehold that the unions have on the taxpayers, allow RI to be a Right-to-Work state and most importantly, allow cities and towns to procure labor at a cost they can afford as opposed to a cost extorted by a union.

Allow cities and towns to procure labor in the same manner as they procure all other goods and services. That is, establish the job description / specs and put it out to bid and force prospective employees to compete.

If the city or town is not offering enough in pay and benefits, they will know in short order based on the # of applicants.

Do that and no one will care about a "fair" funding formula, because we'll then be paying what we can afford, as opposed to the demands of a union that is artificially propped up by uncompetitive collective bargaining & abritration laws.

Posted by: Over-taxed at January 25, 2010 7:44 PM
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