Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bridge Magazine Analysis of School Funding--It is worth the read!

Lies, damn lies and education funding

Mitch Bean was the long-time director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency which provides non-partisan information and analysis for members of the Michigan House of Representatives. He is one of the most knowledgeable financial and policy figures in Lansing and serves on the Bridge Board of Advisers.
Mitch Bean was the long-time director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency which provides non-partisan information and analysis for members of the Michigan House of Representatives. He is one of the most knowledgeable financial and policy figures in Lansing and serves on the Bridge Board of Advisers.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder noted that total state spending in all categories in the School Aid budget has increased from about $10.8 billion of actual expenditures in FY 2010-11 to almost $11.5 billion in appropriations in FY 2013-14 – and that, on a per-pupil basis, the increase equates to about $660 per pupil.
If schools got that much of an increase, why has there been so much rhetoric in the school community about cuts to education, and underfunding of education, and why are so many school officials asking, “Where’s all this money, because I don’t see it?”
Is more money actually getting to the classroom or not?
School finance is a complicated issue. In order to sort through these issues I reviewed detailed Michigan Department of Education budget files provided to me by the Senate Fiscal Agency. The administration’s $660 calculation is correct – but in my opinion doesn’t reflect what actually goes to schools. And it’s further complicated due to declining enrollment.
Let’s decompose the $660 calculation. Total state spending in all categories includes payments made directly to districts; items that do not show up in direct payments to districts; and other items funded with General Fund/General Purpose (GF/GP) that are included in total state spending but are not paid directly or indirectly to districts.
Payments to districts included 64 items between actual fiscal year (FY) 2010-11 expenditures and FY 2013-14 appropriations. However, the School Aid budget has changed significantly since FY 2010-11.
Forty-eight items have been changed or eliminated since 2011 and 41 new items have been added. After adjusting for those changes, total spending has increased about $321.6 million, or 3.03% in three years. And per-student spending on direct payments to districts has increased $416 in per student in three years.
What does that mean? Average yearly growth in spending going to the classroom is about 1.03%. That’s below inflation as measured by Detroit (Consumer Price Index) CPI-U which the Senate Fiscal Agency was 2.6% in FY 2010-11, 2.4% in FY 2011-12, and 1.9% in FY 2012-13. And average growth in per-pupil spending going to districts over three years is $138.7 per year.
It’s also important to note that state spending on the foundation allowance which includes three items in FY 2013-14: the Proposal A Obligation, the Discretionary Payment, and the Discretionary Payment Adjustment – declined since FY 2010-11. It was about $543 million higher in FY 2010-11 ($9.27 billion compared with $8.72 in FY 2013-14).
That means state spending on the foundation allowance declined 5.87% since FY 2010-11. Total state spending on the foundation allowance is down, while per-pupil spending increased because enrollment is down 41,136 since FY 2010-11. That’s why some school districts are receiving less money.
The second category of total state spending is items that do not show up in direct payments to districts. This category includes nine items and has increased $121.9 million since FY 2010-11. However the item that dominates this category is debt service for the school bond loan fund which has increased $128.8 million since FY 2010-11.
This money doesn’t go directly to districts and hardly seems appropriate to include in a per-pupil calculation for schools.
The third category is other items funded with GF/GP that are included in total state spending but are not paid directly or indirectly to districts. This category includes money for the state Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI), Michigan Virtual University, and the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System (MPSERS) rate cap for libraries. Clearly this category does not belong in the $660 calculation either.
Neither my $416 estimate nor the administration’s $660 estimate includes new line-items (new since FY 2011-12) for MPSERS. The FY 2013-14 School Aid budget includes Sections 147a, which is a one-time cost offset of $100 million, and 147b, which is the state share of MPSERS unfunded liability – which total $503 million in FY 2013-14. The three-year total for MPSERS cost offset and unfunded liability is approximately $1 billion – which the administration refers to as new money that offsets MPSERS costs for schools.
These are new line-items that were not included in the FY 2010-11 budget – but is it new money or existing School Aid Fund money reassigned to a new line-item? I pose this question because the $543 million reduction in state funding for foundations when I compare FY 2013-14 with FY 2010-11 is so similar to the $503 million of “new money” for MPSERS in the FY 2013-14 School Aid budget. I’ll let readers decide what to call it.
In order to be consistent with the Administration’s calculations, I used actual expenditures for FY 2010-11 and FY 2013-14 appropriations. However, appropriations change during the year and are seldom equal to actual expenditures.
In FY 2010-11 state appropriations to districts were about $100 million higher than actual expenditures. I expect actual expenditures in FY 2013-14 to be somewhat higher than current appropriations because more money is available, staff consensus is that some programs are a bit underfunded, and it’s an election year. That means most of these calculations will need to be redone when final expenditure numbers are available.
Depending on what you want to count and how you count it, an argument can be made that funding has increased, decreased, or is flat.

The case for an increase

Total state spending per pupil and divided it by the number of pupils gives you what the administration wants to count. In FY ’11 it comes out to $6,884, and in FY ’14 it comes out to $7,545. The difference between those two numbers is $661.
But dig a little deeper, and only $439 of that is due to state spending. The other $222 is due to a decrease in the total number of students.
But there’s an important point here: the foundation allowance and “per pupil” funding are no longer synonymous.
Now, instead of just the foundation allowance being sent to schools, people, including the Governor’s number crunchers, are rolling in spending on things like the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System, MPSERS.
The Governor pointed to $1 billion invested into MPSERS, saying “It’s the right answer and we need to keep it up.” A rate cap on districts was instituted for FY 13 and FY 14 of $160 million and $403.3 million respectively. In addition, grants in FY 12, FY 13, and FY 14 of $155 million, $155million, and $100 million helped fund MPSERS.
So the $1 billion (actually $973.3 million) was over a three-year period, and it should be noted that the impact varied by district depending on how much of their payroll represented employees subject to MPSERS.
The Legislature has included MPSERS cost offsets for local districts, created a MPSERS Reserve Fund, and capped employer contribution rates for unfunded accrued liabilities at 20.96 percent of payroll.
That last part is the largest – it means that school districts know they have to pay up to that amount, but after that the state will cover the costs directly through the School Aid Fund.
So if you roll MPSERS in to that total per-pupil number, the total amount of money going to schools divided by the total number of students going to schools has indisputably increased from FY ’11 to FY ’14.

The case for a decrease

If you just look at the foundation allowance, that is lower than it was in FY ’11. There was a significant cut in FY ’12, and then a little bit of that has been restored.
According to a chart produced by the SFA in August, the minimum effective foundation allowance was $7,146 in FY ’11 — when Snyder was in office, but hadn’t set that budget. In FY ’14 it is $7,026, a $120 decrease.
FY ’12, Snyder’s first budget, saw the only drop in minimum effective foundation allowance under his tenure, but it was a big one. It went from $7,146 in FY ’11 to $6,846, a total of $300.
But the drop was due at least in part to a drop-off in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, which had previously been infused into the state’s education system.
When those funds disappeared, the state couldn’t completely make up for them. But the reason they couldn’t be made up was a net tax cut of about $500 million and a BSF deposit of about $258 million – so that took about $750 million off the table that could have reduced or eliminated the cuts to education.

The case for flat funding

The House Fiscal Agency (HFA) in a background briefing released earlier this month pointed out that in terms of gross School Aid Fund (SAF) appropriations, there’s not been a ton of movement.
“Total School Aid appropriations have remained fairly flat over the last ten years,” notes the document.
In FY ’14, gross appropriations were at $13,367 million. The lowest they’ve been in the past 10 years was in FY ’05, at $12,467 million. In FY ’14, gross appropriations were 7.2 percent higher than in FY ’05. There was some fluctuation between those times, but it stayed right between those two numbers.
“Excluding federal funds dedicated for specific purposes, total FY 2013-14 funding for schools is at the same level as FY 2005-2006 (not adjusted for inflation),” notes the House report.
In other words, when you pull back to look at a decade-long trend, education funding may not be trending much of anywhere.
Mitch Bean served as the Director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, a nonpartisan agency within the Michigan House of Representatives. Agency personnel provide confidential, nonpartisan assistance to the House Appropriations Committee and all other members of the House on legislative fiscal matters.

EAA Update Vote--Postponed Until We Are Not Paying Attention

Update from Steve Norton, Michigan Parents for Schools.  Don't be complacent.This will return when they have the votes!

Guess we caught them off guard.....

Chad Livengood @ChadLivengood

UPDATE: @MIHouseGOP spokesman @aribadler stresses "we’re not voting today" on the EAA bill & there is no timeline established for a vote.

EAA Action Alert

From Michigan Parents for Schools:

Dear Friends,
Once again, we are asking for your help. Our state is on the verge of compounding a terrible mistake by making it even bigger. As you might guess, I'm referring to the so-called Education Achievement Authority, an agency engineered by the Governor and billionaire donors to take over struggling schools and wave a magic wand over them. It started with 15 schools in Detroit, and the Legislature is nearing a vote on whether to take it to the "big time" state wide.
Only we're too old to believe in magic, and the EAA's work in Detroit has been a disaster rather than a miracle. This experiment should be ended, for the sake of the children in those schools. We should not base our state's entire program for helping struggling schools on a failed experiment that many call "educational malpractice." There are real alternatives, which can produce constructive change. Our "Parent Proposal" is just such an alternative, and there is now pending legislation which would take our state in a better direction.
If you believe in helping struggling schools rather than punishing them, in lifting up students carrying heavy burdens rather than subjecting them to half-baked experiments, please read on. As parents who care for our own children, how can we remain silent when other children are being hurt in the name of "reform"?

If a sensible person were to design a program to assist struggling schools, educating children facing significant hurdles, you might expect that program to include the best resources available, the most experienced and skilled teachers, and an educational program that was proven to help children overcome the hurdles they face.
In the Education Achievement Authority, we see none of these things. In a program that prided itself on its technology-centric curriculum, there were never enough computers, no resources to repair ones that were broken, and persistent network failures. To face the most difficult classroom challenges, the EAA hired primarily new teachers, many of them in turn Teach For America fellows who are recent college graduates but with only five weeks of training to be a teacher. Since most of the teaching was to be done by computer, class size was not a concern and teachers were supposed to be just "facilitators." But those computers, when they worked, delivered a "curriculum" which was mostly an empty shell. EAA students were essentially unpaid beta testers for a private for-profit software development firm in Utah.
"First of all, there is no EAA-provided 'curriculum.' Teachers design the curriculum as we go and upload it into Buzz, which is an empty shell other than some videos and tests. In practice, however, the digital curriculum in such large classrooms winds up being students keeping Buzz open in one tab while they watch YouTube videos, go on Facebook and Twitter, check out Instagram, etc."
The gap between the marketing and the reality was so large that even inexperienced teachers started to realize they were in a losing situation: they would lose, their students would lose, their community would lose.
"Almost all [the teachers who quit] have gone back to the Detroit Public Schools. We lost all of our guidance counselors. We lost all but two special ed teachers. We lost all of our science teachers except for two."
Then the really disturbing stuff started leaking out. The EAA had huge discipline problems, and when their suspension rates attracted public attention, they responded by telling staff to "handle" things without reporting it. Building administrators reportedly used harsh physical punishments in an effort to "control" things; but at other times there seemed to be no control at all.
"I've never felt this worried about going to school. I'm well aware that most of my kids would protect me and they have before, but they shouldn't have to. That's the role of discipline. But, at the same time, I afraid to report a kid because I've seen disciplinary officers hit them and I've reported it and nothing has happened from the state."
Then there is the question of special education: the EAA claimed to have "discovered" that literally hundreds of their students with special education status did not actually need those services. But we started hearing stories of parents being pressured to give up, "revoke," their child's right to special ed services; of families being intimidated into taking their children elsewhere; and of serious irregularities in how special education services were handled in each school. These are all matters tightly regulated by Federal and state law, and the very serious charges are now the subject of legal complaints to state and Federal authorities.
"I left because as a special education teacher, I knew that their special education program was violating the law. The treatment of students was making me sick. For my own professional reputation and mental health, I had to stop working there. I miss the kids. I worry about them."
[These quotes are drawn from some remarkable interviews by independent journalist Chris Savage with current and former teachers in the EAA. To read more, please see the list of interviews here.]
So this is our state government's vision for all schools, not just those most in need. Start with unaccountable bureaucracies implementing top-down, inflexible solutions. Then create regimented classrooms where computers replace human talent and interaction. (Remember the "skunk works" plan for a computer-based "value school"?) Finally, show that you can do it on the cheap - because there's no point spending money on other people's children.
Is this what we want? Is this what our children deserve? Is this how we build a solid future for our communities and for Michigan? If this is not what we want, we need to speak out today. We need to let our lawmakers know that we need to end this awful experiment and move in a new and constructive direction.
Thanks for reading!
Steven Norton
Executive Director
Want to know more about the EAA? MIPFS assisted other advocates and lawmakers in combing through documents received under FOIA requests, which along with other resources can be found on the Inside the EAA web site.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Michigan Public Radio addresses high stakes testing

State of Opportunity: High Stakes Testing
This month, our State of Opportunity team is looking at the issue of school testing. High stakes tests, like the MEAP, can have a big impact on kids, teachers, and entire school districts. But are the stakes higher for some kids and schools than others? Do low income children and children of color have less of a chance of performing well on these tests?  And do these tests really reflect whether a child is getting a good education?

"High Stakes Testing" Call-in Show - This Thursday, Jan. 16, 3:00 pm and 10:00 pm (repeat)
Join Jennifer White as she hosts a live call-in special on this important topic. You can submit your questions by phone at 866-255-2762, on Twitter @StateofOpp, or on Facebook here.

"The Big Test" Documentary - Thursday, Jan. 30, 3:00 pm and 10:00 pm (repeat)
Then, on January 30, Dustin Dwyer goes inside a struggling school, from the first day of the year until the last testing day for the MEAP. He brings us a rare look at all the things the tests don't tell us about kids, schools and what it means to get a good education.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

EAA expansion up for a vote in the House

 Please read this important notice from Michigan Parents for Schools
This may be our last chance to stop unlimited expansion of the unaccountable Education Achievement Authority. Yesterday, the Senate passed a version of the EAA bill that doesn't even mention the EAA, but makes sure that the EAA would be eligible to run schools placed in the state "reform district." It's hard to imagine, but they have made the bill even worse.
The bill:
  • Removes all limits on the size of the EAA
  • Removes all limits on the number of new charter schools the EAA could create
  • Removes a provision that would have let schools ask their local ISD to help them instead
  • Removes criteria for deciding when a school can "exit" this nonsense
  • Changes the law to remove any legal doubt that the EAA could be asked to run state "takeover" schools
  • Allows the Legislature to avoid taking any responsibility for the failures of the EAA without actually changing anything.
The bill returns to the House today. They can do one of three things:
  1. Reject the Senate changes, in which case the bill goes to a proverbial "smoke filled room" for behind-closed-doors negotiations and rapid passage of whatever comes out; or
  2. Accept the Senate changes, placing this mess in state law; or
  3. Simply throw the whole thing in the trash and start over in the new year with something that actually works for kids.
We favor option 3, and I think you would, too. Please ask your State Representative to let this mess drop in the garbage can and work to create real, lasting change for our struggling students and schools!

Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of our children and schools!

Steve Norton
Executive Director

 click on this link to send an email to Representative MacGregor.
Contact Rep. MacGregor!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Urgent Legislative Alert re: Third Grade Retention, School Grading, EAA 12/4/13


Things have been relatively quiet this fall on the Lansing front but we are shaping up to have one heck of a week for our community schools.  We need your phone calls and emails TODAY AND TOMORROW MORNING (vote could be as soon at 10:30 am or early next week----so keep calling throughout tomorrow 12/4/13) please please read on and stay tuned!  I know this is long....but this is our only plea this semester and now is the time to jump to action. There are three important items that we are reaching out to you about.  They will require (1) a phone call or email to your State Representative and (2) a phone call or email to your State Senator.  We are asking for 5 minutes of your time for our kids (and please spread to word to your parent networks).  Given how fast these bills are moving (votes possibly tomorrow), we ask that you even call after hours and leave voicemail messages.  

1.  Third Grade Retention.  Several weeks ago, a bill was introduced that would require that public schools automatically flunk any third grader who did not test "proficient" on the MEAP (or other standardized test).  There were zero exceptions (not even for special ed kids or kids learning English).   Those exceptions (and a few others) have been added after hard work by some folks, but the bill still has serious problems.  I heard in testimony countless examples of kids who struggled in reading but excelled in other areas (and were not "special ed"---just late bloomers who "caught on" in 4th or 5th grade).  Flunking those children would have forever devastated them socially and emotionally (and they were ready to move on in other subject areas).  With zero research to back up the "retention argument" (there is ZERO proof that flunking students leads to success and in fact the research shows the dropout rate skyrockets), it is baffling why we are debating this.  About 35,000 students would be held back (stretching across every district in our state), regardless of their ability in other areas, based on a single test score.  A bill has been introduced, tied to the Third Grade Flunk bill, that would offer early intervention programs for kids.   The amended bill also offers some alternative assessment tools, but the end result is still very likely "you flunk--regardless of what is really in your best interest" (especially since the bill has no exception for kids who are just getting accommodations and are not true "special ed").    We as parents ALL know the key to helping struggling kids is early intervention.  You won't find one district in this state that disagrees.   The problem is that many of those excellent intervention programs have been cut along with the severe decrease in school funding.   We have no problem with early intervention (and in fact have fought hard in EGR to maintain it at the best levels possible, despite severe cuts....many other districts have not been so fortunate).    Interventions will now be mandated---with NO extra money.  

Message to your legislator:  Oppose HB 5411.  (1) Tell Lansing to stop mandating more programs while cutting our money at the same time (resulting in cuts to the exact programs they are now going to mandate).  Unfunded mandates mean that every school district in the state will have to cut (yet again) from programs that provide for well-rounded children.    (2) Tell them that parents working directly with their child's teacher---not Lansing--are in the best position to decide if a child should move ahead to the next grade. 

GR Press Editorial advocating for early intervention and opposing 5411-

2.  Letter Grades for all Public Schools.   Sounds reasonable, right?  I mean, our kids get graded, right?  Yes, except that our child's letter grade reflects work over an entire semester (attendance, homework, quizzes, tests, class participation, etc).  HB 5412 would grade every school in the state on one criterion:  test scores.  We believe this is dangerous since it will inevitably lead to emphasizing test subjects only in school and certainly does not offer parents information they need to make an informed choice about the schools they may be choosing.  For example, some schools have high poverty (and thus low test scores) but in fact are making incredible progress against tremendous odds on their test scores.  Some schools are strong in the arts or offer a specific curriculum area.  Ultimately, we believe parents need more than just a letter grade based on a standardized test to measure a school.  Further,  the Department of Education just implemented its color coding system a few months ago.   Just a few months later, the legislature wants to again change the rules.  Public schools are treated like ping-pong balls and have to constantly figure out what system is going to be used.   

Message to your legislator:  Oppose HB 5112.  Metrics are fine, but "grading" our schools based on one test score is misleading.   We support a full dashboard that shows many different aspects of a school (such as student progress, test scores, access to the arts, extracurricular programming, safety record, etc) so that parents can make a truly informed decision.  Either implement a truly useful dashboard or just keep the Department of Education system in place (which is at least flexible and can be modified to adapt to better measurements as they are developed).  Stop changing the rules every few months.   

Steve Norton at Michigan Parents for Schools does a great job summarizing this issue.  I have cut and pasted his email at the bottom for any of you that want to read it.

3.  Education Achievement Authority (EAA).Okay, this is a blast from the past.  Remember when the state was going to possibly be able to take over ANY empty building in any school district?  That was the EAA. One year ago to be exact.  

Bottom line:  EAA = mega statewide school district with the unprecedented ability to take over schools everywhere.  Because of your great work, we stopped the EAA.   That's the honest truth.  YOU stopped it.  While it was rammed through the House, it stalled in the Senate because of all your work last year.    Well, it's back.  The Senate Education Committee actually still does not have enough votes (thank you Sen. Judy Emmons in Greenville for recognizing the danger of this bill) to get this out of committee.  Using a rare procedure, the bill is now slated to be dumped on the Senate Floor directly without hearings and without a committee majority.   We have learned that moving the bill is critical since the EAA is getting nervous.  The current partner for the EAA is Eastern Michigan University.  Given how non-transparent the EAA has been, many folks there would like to see the charter yanked (making this vote all the more urgent for this mega-statewide district).  In fact, the EMU Education Dean resigned from the EAA Board.  Interestingly, parents have chosen---in droves---to not stay in the EAA.  They lost 27% of their students from last year to this year.  The EAA has well-documented failures regarding staffing, enrollment, serving special ed students,  and lack of transparency.  And yet the state wants to continue expansion.  The response:  "The EAA can just grab more schools to make the EAA viable."  That's pretty appalling in the age of "parent choice."    The State Superintendent plans to grab 10-15 more schools outside of DPS.   Last year, the legislature proposed creating this massive new statewide school district all on an untested idea.  We said "at least pilot it."  Well, turns out the test failed.   And yet they are still demanding expansion.

Message:  Tell your Senator that you oppose the expansion of the EAA and that we don't need Lansing taking over schools all over the state.  While limited to 50 schools, that would still make the EAA the largest school district in the state (with about 50,000 students).     The EAA is not a model that works.  We don't need more of Lansing running our schools.  

Our sincerest thanks for all you do,

Lucy & Elizabeth

Cut and Paste Letters for Your State Representative and State Senator

Find Your Representative here:
If your are in the 73rd District, 

Michigan Representative Peter MacGregor, 73rd District
Phone: (517) 373-0218
Toll Free: (855) 347-8073

Hello Representative MacGregor--

I am writing to tell you that I oppose HB5411, The Third Grade Retention Law, currently coming up for a vote in the House Education Committee.  I see this as mandating programs while cutting money going to public schools.  Our district had to cut programs for early elementary learning.  While these programs will now be mandated under this law to prevent large numbers of third graders from flunking, our schools will have to take money from other programs that provide for well-rounded children.
Many factors go into a child's education.  Flunking a child who tests poorly could be damaging.  Whether my third grade child moves on to the next grade should be a decision made between me, my child's teacher and the school.  Lansing should not be poking its nose into this decision. 

I am also writing to tell you that I oppose HB 5112, The School Grading Law, currently coming up for a vote in the House Education Committee.  Metrics are fine, but "grading" our schools based on one test score is misleading.  A full dashboard which shows many different aspects of a school would receive my full support.  This dashboard could include student progress, test scores, access to the arts, extracurricular programming, safety records and other areas.  If a truly representative dashboard can't be implemented, please keep the more flexible Michigan Department of Education system in place.  Please stop changing the rules every few months.

Thank you for considering the opinion of your constituent.


If you are in the 86th district, your Senator is Mark Jansen.  
(517) 373-0797
Hello Senator Jansen—

Please oppose the expansion of the EAA.  We do not need Lansing taking over schools all over our state.  While limited to 50 schools, EAA is still the largest school district in the state with about 50,000 students.  The EAA model is not working.  EAA parents are not satisfied.  Too many resources are being diverted to this district.  Please keep Lansing out of our schools.  We elect local school board members to oversee our schools.
Thank you for considering your constituent.