Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Chicken or The Egg

Pardon the philosophical reference. I am actually taking a philosophy class as part of my doctoral program and wanted to fit something in to make myself feel better about spending all that money. In any event, I did share on the first night of class that I thought most philosophy was pure drivel and that I was too busy to ponder 'Who I Am'. I don't know if the professor was offended or amused; guess we will find out at the end of the term when grades come out!

So, I stirred the pot last week didn't I! After Director Glass and I threw a few cyber punches at one another, I decided to reach out and get a little more information before starting my next rant. In fact, I told him point blank that I was looking for more information (ammunition) for my next volley into cyberspace. He was happy to oblige. Hey, I gotta give the guy credit--he was willing to engage, at the very least that shows character, and he even gave me credit by assuming that I had a worldwide audience (you know with the whole "mash a button and publish it to the world" comment). Heck, most of the time I feel that I may have an audience of one or two outside of our local newspaper.

Anyway, he sent me a pretty nice note (I can't say that I would have done the same), and answered my questions the best he could before passing me off to Senior Policy Fellow Ryan Wise (I think that is the right title but can't remember for sure. But you have that question don't you? I know you do because I did too...What exactly is a Fellow? Well I had to ask of course and now I know. Unfortunately it doesn't add a lot to the conversation so we will just move on. Trust me though, he is a nice Fellow.)

My questions centered around the proposal to boost the teacher starting wage to $35,000 and implement the career ladders. Mr. Wise shared the costing model and explained in pretty good detail the funding scheme (based on a per pupil allocation) and the number of teachers we would have in each category. According to the model, we would have a sufficient infusion of capital to pull it off. The Department of Education released the model on Monday, and you can take a look at it yourself right here. I really don't think they are too far off base on the statistical model. (Are you wondering if I am going to use the word 'model' again?) However, I do think there is a pretty naive understanding of Chapter 20. I suspect that is part of the reason for the categorical nature of the mechanism-but still don't believe that will remove all those barriers. One must also keep in mind this model isn't expected to go into effect next year (except for a few pilot districts).

The Director points out that when fully implemented, the package will result in $160 Million in new funding. But what is lost in translation is the fact that we are taking 5 years to ramp this up. For next year, it is $14 Million, much less when you consider what actually flows through to local school districts. Furthermore, the new money that we speak of is in the form of categorical funds, meaning they can only be expended on the purposes outlined in the legislation. In this case, the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program. I understand the reasons for this-but categorical funds don't buy fuel for buses, keep the lights on, or purchase the new math curriculum we have been evaluating this year.

The underlying theme that may have been lost in my rant last week was allowable growth. While it may be true that the Department of Education needs to hire additional people to provide technical assistance for districts to implement these programs, I also need to hire people. In the last two years we have had kindergarten classes in excess of 60 students. Last year, we bandaged that together with two teachers. This year we had the same thing. With more bailing twine and duct tape, I was able to provide three teachers for that class, but at the expense of another grade level. Next year is shaping up to be more of the same, but I don't think there is enough bailing twine to fix it this time. If I had a healthy unspent balance, I would recommend hiring a teacher and cash flowing, but our USB (unspent balance) is less than 5.5%. Try explaining these difficult concepts to parents who just don't want their child to get lost in a sea of 30 other students!

The Governor is using the allowable growth discussion as leverage to pass his educational reform. He has been open to discussion allowable growth, or state aide adjustment as he wants to call it now, (frankly I don't care what they call it) but only after he passes education reform. The fear, and I would suspect a lot of my colleagues have, is that this education reform package will get rammed through and then we would be left with mere bread crumbs (1-2%). With hat in hand we would say, "But that is not enough", to which the inevitable reply would be, "What do you mean that's not enough. We just passed a reform bill of $160 Million. Of course it's enough! Now quit your whining and go improve test scores" (boot to the backside as superintendents exit stage left.)

So what should we do? Ah, I am glad you ask. I propose we do both the chicken (allowable growth) and the egg (education reform) simultaneously. Heck I even told Mr. Wise if we can get all this done with 4% allowable growth I would shine his shoes and take him out to dinner. I'll even let the Director tag along. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Anthony,

    I appreciate the depth you went to in really getting the details on the proposal before the legislature. There are certainly lots of questions that need to be asked and we all want this to be the best package we can put together.

    I also appreciate the opportunity to exchange and learn that you've provided for all of us. I think there is room for getting substantial reform work done this session as well as getting something done on allowable growth (or the artist formerly known as!).

    Thanks again for the exchange - appreciate what you do on behalf of kids in Iowa.