Best Memorial Day wishes from NSBA
School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
Articles from May, 2004
In 2003, the Harvard Civil Rights Project released a study entitled: “A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream?” The report showed that public school desegregation has receded and that African-American students are experiencing the most rapid resegregation in the South, having lost all progress recorded since the 1960’s.
Yesterday, a new study from Making a Difference in Communities (MDC) documented the same findings, and added a new twist. Not only are the South’s schools resegregating rapidly, but so the inequities between schools. MDC’s study, “State of the South 2004: Fifty Years after Brown vs. Board of Education,” documents the growing structural changes in our economy, increasing racial and ethnic diversity, and a growing gap between the haves and have-nots. These trends put increased pressures on the region to prepare young people for lifelong learning, work, and civic participation, all things that MDC claims Southern schools are not doing effectively.
But is the problem of increasingly segregated schools strictly a Southern problem? Not according to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, which last month released a new report on racial segregation in the Boston Public Schools. For decades, some Southern voices have pointed out that Northerners may be a bit quicker to point to segregation problems in the faraway South than to recognize their own local challenges. You can read “Racial Segregation and Educational Outcomes in Metropolitan Boston” here.
STATES: Police questioning students; funding suit gains; and how boards can appeal decisions by municipal governments
The Arizona Attorney General clarifies recommendations from the Arizona School Boards Association on school principals notifying parents when their children are questioned by police at school. Nearly half of all public school districts in Missouri have joined a lawsuit that challenges how that state parcels out education funding. The Missouri Education Coalition for Adequacy includes the Missouri School Boards Association. The New Jersey School Boards Association says appeals by school boards of funding decisions made by municipal government are not uncommon.
BoardBuzz readers know that we—like the South Carolina School Boards Association—didn’t think much of S.C. Governor Mark Sanford’s proposed tuition tax credit voucher plan, which the state legislature wisely rejected earlier this month. But we tip our hat to the governor for his humorous poke at lawmakers’ pork barrel budget largess, which took on a literal meaning when Sanford brought two piglets, named “Pork” and “Barrel,” to the statehouse to make his point. Apparently Sanford was none too pleased that the legislature had overridden 105 of his 106 budget vetoes in just over an hour. Likewise, some lawmakers didn’t find the humor in the governor’s attempt to turn the Statehouse into a smokehouse, as The State put it. One lawmaker asserted that the stunt was beneath the dignity of the governor and the legislature. OK, we admit we don’t know all the budget details in South Carolina. But if you can’t laugh over this clever publicity stunt, you’re just taking life too seriously. Hey, Governor Sanford: Any chance Pork and Barrel could make a road trip north to Capitol Hill sometime?
There’s been some more noise lately in the ongoing national debate over the costs of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and whether they represent unfunded federal mandates. Once again, BoardBuzz is taking this opportunity to pull it all together.
Wisconsin: Compliance may not be required
First, last week Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an opinion that the state may be under no legal obligation to implement NCLB if the costs of compliance exceed the federal funding provided under the act. She focused her opinion on the NCLB provision that prohibits federal officials from requiring “a state or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act.” BoardBuzz has discussed this provision and its implications before.
The attorney general’s opinion cites three parts of NCLB that are not adequately funded: (1) the cost of testing programs to meet the mandate that all third- through eighth-graders be tested every year in reading and math; (2) the costs of implementing sanctions against schools that do not meet the law’s requirement for adequate yearly progress (AYP) in raising student performance; and (3) the cost of sufficient funding “to permit virtually every student in every school to reach ‘proficiency’ levels on standardized tests.”
As usual, much rhetoric ensued. “This is the first ruling of its kind in the United States,” Stan Johnson, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We urge school districts or the state to go to court and correct this injustice.” Calling the opinion a ‘ruling’ may be overstating the case, although some commentators have characterized the opinion as an invitation for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction or local school boards to sue.
Meanwhile, John Gibbons, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, disputed the notion that NCLB imposes unfunded mandates. He said proposed federal spending increases for next year would bring Wisconsin schools $1.7 billion in federal money, a 45% increase from when the current administration took office. Of that amount, $293 million is specifically earmarked for NCLB programs, he added. More on this line of argument, below.
Ken Cole, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said that any school district contemplating a lawsuit will need to develop a factual record of how much the law is costing and how much the district is receiving. Not an easy task, he cautioned. This may be one of the reasons, despite much speculation, that no direct challenge to NCLB has been filed, although Reading, Pennsylvania’s school district did invoke the “full funding” provision of the act as part of its legal challenge to that state’s classification of 13 of its 19 schools as having failed to make AYP.
GAO: Technically, it’s not an ‘unfunded mandate’
Next, on the issue of NCLB’s costs to states and local communities, the GAO (General Accounting Office) just released a report on federal unfunded mandates that does not include NCLB on the list. U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige is making much of the report, which he says exposes concerns over unfunded NCLB costs as a “red herring” by (here we go again) “those who are opposed to accountability and education reform.”
But read closely. The headlines don’t reflect the word-parsing. You see, the GAO report is a mandatory review of federal programs that uses a technical, legal definition of “unfunded mandate,” one set forth in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995. Under that definition, no federal funding program that is “optional” is considered an unfunded mandate. If the requirements are a condition of receiving federal funds, they are not mandates. “If states do not want federal support,” says Secretary Paige, “they are not required to take the funds. It’s that simple.”
Mathis: Sorting through the rhetoric
An excellent recent column by William J. Mathis in Education Week offers us all some help in making sense of this issue. Dr. Mathis summarizes the five definitions of “fully funded” that are used in the NCLB debate:
- Relative increases: This is Mr. Gibbons’ line, above, and it’s become one of the standard federal talking points whenever NCLB’s costs come in for state and local criticism. Problem is, this has nothing to do with the question of whether the funding is equal to NCLB’s costs. And, by the way, the increases represent less than 1 percent of total education funding, and the federal share has decreased from 9.8 to 7.4 percent.
- Authorization vs. appropriation: This is the point, which NSBA has made, that the money actually appropriated by Congress for NCLB never came close to that authorized when NCLB was passed. Dr. Mathis rightly notes that this argument, too, is disconnected from the real costs of educating children. On the other hand, we think it’s fair to point out that the politicians trumpeted the authorization levels when they passed NCLB. They themselves identified these amounts as what it would take to succeed. That kind of gap between rhetoric and reality is the reason we weren’t about to dance in the streets over the Senate IDEA bill’s authorization level.
- The law’s definition: This one seldom is used, but according to Dr. Mathis, the law says each child living in poverty is eligible for an extra 40 percent of the state’s average per-pupil funding. He says this would mean that NCLB currently is funded at just 41 percent of its costs.
- “Add-on” administrative costs: This is often used by NCLB defenders, especially think tanks, who say we should only count the added costs of doing the actions specifically mandated by NCLB, not the costs of leaving no child behind as defined by the act. This is a “foggy” area according to Dr. Mathis, who notes that the conclusions of the seven state studies of these NCLB costs have averaged out to 3 percent new money to implement NCLB. That would mean federal funding should double to meet just the administrative costs.
- In the real world, Dr. Mathis concludes, none of the above definitions really gets at the heart of the matter, which is what it actually will cost to educate all students to meet academic standards. Twenty-eight funding adequacy studies in 20 states have used different methodologies, but they all indicate we’re talking about big bucks. The median increase is 30.2 percent.
Maybe there really are voices among the NCLB critics out there who, at some visceral level, just don’t like the idea of “accountability and reform.” But by and large, the most telling criticisms of NCLB have come from those who most strenuously are striving to fulfill its promise—those who are actually responsible for the education of real children in the real world. NSBA has proposed reasonable improvements to NCLB that will make it more workable while preserving its focus on accountability for serving all of our children. It’s focused much effort on helping school districts understand and work toward fulfilling the promise of NCLB, including by providing resources on how school boards can use NCLB as a governance tool.
But, yes, NSBA will continue to call the federales on the bottom line, which is a reality in education just like it is everywhere else. It is unacceptable to turn a blind eye to meeting the needs of all students. But it is equally unacceptable to make promises to America’s children and then not come through with the resources needed to fulfill the promises. And it is unacceptable to send a message to financially strapped school districts—especially those facing the most daunting educational challenges—that maybe their best bet is to turn down desperately needed funds.
For those on their way to Washington, D.C. this summer (or this weekend for the dedication of the glorious new World War II Memorial), consider wandering across the National Mall to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, for its new Brown v. Board of Education exhibit. For great online resources on the history of the decision, check out the Smithsonian Brown history site, as well as American School Board Journal’s recent special edition
The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday heard the state’s appeal of a district court ruling that its state voucher program is unconstitutional. A decision is expected in about two months, the Associated Press reports. The state’s deputy attorney general argued that the Legislature had the right to create the program that would grant private school vouchers of about $4,500 per student. A district court judge last year halted the program, which had been set to begin in Fall 2004, because he said it violated the local control clause of the state constitution. As BoardBuzz has previously reported, Colorado voters have twice rejected vouchers, and the Legislature rejected three bills this year aimed at sidestepping the lower court’s ruling by recreating the voucher program.
Is the ability to parse words a prerequisite for becoming a politician? It appears to be for some Florida lawmakers who just look silly trying to explain why nearly a third of the private schools participating in the state’s flagship voucher program are unaccredited, even though the law appears to prohibit this. These are the private schools that students can attend via a voucher if their public school is deemed “failing” by the state based on test scores. Scores from a test the private schools do not have to administer, but that’s another story.
When the Florida legislature passed the state’s first voucher program in 1999, it said participating schools must “be subject to the instruction, curriculum and attendance criteria adopted by an appropriate nonpublic school accrediting body,” the Palm Beach Post reports. But Florida Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, who was Senate president when the law passed, said the legislature did not care if the schools were accredited. “If we had intended for the schools to be accredited, we would have said: Schools shall be accredited,” she said.
But that interpretation isn’t sitting well with the state senator who actually sponsored the bill creating the program. “I know what I meant,” Sen. Anna Cowin told the Post. “I meant there had to be an accrediting body and the school had to be accredited. That’s obviously what I wanted.”
The incoming Senate president agreed with Cowin. “It is what it is,” Sen. Tom Lee said. “You can’t just make it up as you go along.” Sadly, it’s apparent to anyone who’s been paying attention to Florida’s voucher mess that that’s precisely what the state has been doing for five years now.
(Side note: We know we’ve mentioned it before, but hats off to the award-winning work of the Palm Beach Post in shedding light on the accountability void in Florida’s multiple voucher programs. There are so many examples to draw from that it must be like shooting fish in a barrel at this point.)
Dan Fuller, NSBA’s director of federal programa, is quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece on a new trend in field trips: Taking classes of students to retail stores. Supporters say kids can learn a lot. Critics say it is just another marketing ploy by retailers to build brand loyalty at an early age. “In today’s fiscal climate, schools can’t afford to take kids to the zoo,” Fuller told the Inquirer. “So they go to the Petco to learn about pet care. I think we’re going to see more and more innovative solutions directly from the failure of the federal government to fund mandates.” One teacher tied lessons about safety into a trip to Sports Authority, and learned about the rain forest at Petco. “It’s free,” the teacher said. “You go to the farm, and it’s $10” a child.
Last week we told you about a Florida voucher school that had hiked its tuition to nearly twice the average amount of the taxpayer funded vouchers, thereby pricing out the low-income families the program is touted to help. The Palm Beach Post editorial page has weighed in with its take on the little noticed change in the law that paved the way for this move. “Florida’s voucher programs have crossed the line at which the pretense of helping students ends and the real goal of enriching private schools becomes clear,” they write. Read the full editorial here.