Welcome to the blog of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. CTEN is a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the public at large with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
How does California rank in per-pupil spending? Ask three
people and you’ll get four different answers. That’s because it depends on the
methodology used to calculate the costs. Hence there is really no one right
answer as explained in a detailed report by EdSource’s
Week uses data collected by the federal
government, the National Center for Education Statistics. The center
publishes 2-year-old data because it waits for states to update their actual
spending, and the center takes months scrubbing the information to make sure
the state data are comparable. EdWeek
then applies a cost-of-living factor, the Comparable Wage Index, which has
the effect of lowering the rankings of states with high costs of living.
The National Education Association’s data,
based on surveys it sends out to states, are more current but depend on states’
best estimates of spending. Those can change significantly if, for example, a
legislature makes mid-year budget cuts. NEA annually revises data for the two
previous years, and it doesn’t apply a cost-of-living adjustment, such as a
comparable wage index.
The California Budget and Policy Center uses
the most recent NEA numbers, but then applies the comparable wage index for its
rankings… on a “State Report Card” issued by Education Week, California scored below the national average.
Massachusetts ranked at the top, followed by New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire,
Maryland and Connecticut, all earning a B. As a whole, the nation received a C, but the Golden State came in with
a solid C-minus, 10th from the bottom among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
The state ranked 41st
in conditions that help children succeed, 39th in school finance,
and 30th in achievement. The report card gave the state a D+
in K-12 achievement and school finance,
and a C in chance for success.
Ask a group of
teachers about “test-based accountability” and an argument – perhaps with
name-calling – will probably ensue. But perhaps a piece in Education Week by the eminently sensible Robert Pondiscio will
bring any extreme positions on the subject to a rational middle. He writes:
I’m morally inclined
toward (Cato Institute’s Jason) Bedrick’s “choice purist” argument for its
simplicity and clarity. I chose my daughter’s (private) school without
much official oversight, approval, or fear of sanction. I see no reason to
think I’ve cornered the market on sound parental judgment. That said, (Fordham
Institute’s Mike) Petrilliand others who favor stronger oversight are
on solid ground when they note that when taxpayers are paying for it, the
public has a right, even an obligation, to make sure the money’s not
squandered. But where I part company with them is that I’m
increasingly open to exploring other forms of accountability, including letting
parents vote with their feet.
Another subject that brings a lot of heat, but not always
light is ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is the latest incarnation
of the convoluted No Child Left Behind law. To bring the subject to a level
that we mortals can understand, education policy experts Rick Hess and Max Eden
have issued The Every Student Succeeds
Act: A 101 Guide.
heralded as “the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a
quarter century,” reflects and responds to these political trends. In the new
volume The Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Schools, Systems, and
States, AEI Education assembled a group of expert scholars and observers to
provide a coherent, readable, and in-depth account of where ESSA came from,
what it says, what will or will not change, and what it all means for schools.
This guide distills selected chapters of that volume into a series of short
briefs to help policymakers navigate the new law and its implications for
On the school choice front, things are advancing. Many
choice-friendly governors and state legislators were swept into office this
past November. An article by Education
Week’s Arianna Prothero examines some of the potential legislation.
looks primed to pass legislation allowing charter schools to open—it's one of
only seven states that remains a charter holdout…Arizona lawmaker Wants to extend
Education Savings Accounts to all students…Texas
lawmakers try again for a voucher program.
Choice is not only making news on a state level but in D.C.,
where President Trump has been speaking about a national school choice measure.
To that end, Thomas Carroll, president of the Invest in Education
Coalition based in New York, has a plan which he details in “A
Federal Scholarship Tax Credit: The Only Fifty-State School-Choice Option.”
If you pay federal
taxes and donate to any eligible, existing scholarship fund—for example, the
Children’s Scholarship Fund—you get to reduce your tax bill by the amount of
your donation. Any such bill would set an income threshold for who can use the
scholarships funded by the tax-credited donations (in the Rubio-Rokita case, up
to 2.5 times the poverty level, or about $60,000 for a family of four), place a
cap on what size donation would be eligible for a tax credit, and potentially
limit the total combined amount of tax credits allowed for all taxpayers in a
calendar year ($20 billion, for example, the amount of federal funds President
Trump has proposed for expanding school choice).
In a contrary piece,
The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke warns against any kind of federal
Creating a new federal program further
entangles Washington in local school policy and private education. Scholarship
tax credits (STCs) are great policy at the state level. They enable businesses
and individuals to receive a credit against their tax obligations for
contributing to non-profit scholarship granting organizations, which in turn
provide scholarships to eligible children to attend a private school of choice.
It’s a win-win.
Nevertheless, the federal tax code is not the
appropriate lever for establishing STCs. First, the U.S. Constitution does not
authorize the federal government to enact national education programs, and
instead rightly leaves education policy to the states. Moreover, school choice
programs produce savings to the taxpayer at the state level because state
education spending is tied to enrollment, but this is not true of federal
education spending. Reductions in revenue from scholarship tax credits are more
than offset by corresponding decreases in state spending. By contrast, a
federal STC would provide no corresponding reduction in spending.
Also, on the policy
front, President Trump undid his predecessor’s “bathroom” guidelines which had
called on schools nationwide to let transgender students choose “Boys” or
“Girls,” depending on how they perceived themselves, and not the old-fashioned
way: by body parts. So now, the decision is up to each state and teacher union
leaders were not happy about the change. National Education Association
president Lily Eskelsen García insisted, “Every student matters, and every
student has the right to feel safe, welcomed, and valued in our public schools.
This is our legal, ethical and moral obligation. The Trump administration’s
plans to reverse protections for transgender students… is dangerous,
ill-advised, and unnecessary.” Not to be outdone, American Federation of
Teachers president Randi Weingarten claimed that reversing the guidelines “tells
trans kids that it’s OK with the Trump administration and the Department of
Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”
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