Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Education as a Percent of the Iowa State Budget: A Measure of Priority-Guest Blog

“Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are.”  —James W. Frick (1924- ), Former Vice President for Public Relations, Alumni Affairs, and Development, University of Notre Dame

Exactly what is the percent of the Iowa State Budget spent on PK-12 education?

That should be fairly easy to determine, one would think. But it all depends on assumptions and what is included in the revenues compared. We’ve heard everything from 43% to 60% of the state budget is spent on education. Those numbers are mathematically correct based on different assumptions, such as considering only the state General Fund and whether you include community colleges, regents and other educational line items. However, a more in depth look at the numbers shows the relatively low priority investment Iowa makes in K-12 education compared to the rest of the nation.  

According to LSA Fiscal Facts, June 2013, page 43, 25.0% of FY 2012 State Governmental Expenditures are spent on Education. Although well below the 43% figure often quoted, that’s still not even the whole story.

Apples to Apples: The National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) published their annual State Expenditure Report analyzing all state expenditures excluding bonds (not just general fund.) In their analysis on Table 5, page 11, titled State Spending by Function, as a Percent of Total State Expenditures, Fiscal 2012, they report the following percentages:

Iowa Elementary and Secondary Education for FY 2012 was 16.8% of total state spending. That compares with an average of 18.9% in the plain states region in which Iowa is categorized and well below the national average of 20.0% for all states.  

Also worthy to note: Iowa dedicates 25% of total state spending to Higher Education, which is well above the national average of 10.5%. Although Iowa is fortunate to have three regents’ institutions, including higher education in total educational expenditures masks Iowa’s lower investment in K-12 compared to the nation. The graphic below, from page 4 of the Report, shows the total state expenditures (aggregated nationally) by function for Fiscal 2012, delineating K-12 and higher education for the nation: 


The history of Iowa’s percentage of total state funds compared to the nation includes data from the report as follows: 

The report also explains spending trends in Fiscal 2013, on page 14 of the report: “States have begun to restore some prior cuts to K-12 education as the economy has slowly improved and state revenues have begun to increase.”      

Members of the Education Coalition Agree: The legislature should follow the law, set the cost per pupil during this legislative session for the 2015-16 school year, and allow school districts to meet planning, budgeting and bargaining deadlines, as well as fully engage in school reform efforts. Any delay in setting the rate will stymie the very school improvement the bi-partisan legislature and governor created last year. Setting the per pupil cost this session for the 2015-16 school year maintains the bi-partisan priority status of educating Iowa children.

Sources: LSA Fiscal Facts 2013, Iowa Legislative Services Agency Fiscal Services Divisions, June 2013,
NASBO State Expenditure Report 2013, 

Brought to you by the joint efforts of Iowa Association of School Boards, School Administrators of Iowa, Iowa Area Education Agencies, Iowa State Education Association, and the Urban Education Network of Iowa in support of adequate and timely school funding. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Improving Entry Into the Teaching Profession

National statistics suggest that approximately 50% of all educators who enter the profession of teaching are no longer doing so after five years. Surprised? New teachers are have a pretty steep learning curve once they enter the classroom, and very quickly are put into a position of leadership. They quite literally find themselves serving as 'middle managers' within the confines of their own classroom, holding court over 20 some students. Add to that the pressure they are under to meet statewide standards, high expectations from building principals, a fast paced environment with multiple initiative to track and implement, and sometimes confrontational parents. Considering all of these factors it probably comes as no great shock that teachers oftentimes throw in the towel. After all, they can likely earn more money doing something else where the pressure isn't so great.

Student teaching in Iowa is currently about a fourteen week assignment. By the time student teachers have had the chance to observe teaching in action, learn the students names, and begin to experience the routines of the school, they are left with about two to three week of actual full time classroom teaching.That experience does not include such things as preparing for the start of the school year, parent teacher conferences, or understanding the ebbs and flows of a school year. While our current student teaching model is very good, and we produce outstanding teachers here in Iowa, data suggests that we still need to improve induction and retention of those new to the profession.

Enter House File 215. This is the landmark education reform legislation that was signed into law by Governor Branstad during the last legislative session.  In my discussions with all of you I have spent quite a bit of time talking about the components of HF 215 as they relate to teacher leadership and compensation (don't worry, we will be returning to that). Today I want to talk with you about an exciting partnership that we are embarking on with the University of Northern Iowa that is directly tied to the Governor's education reform initiative. That is the year long student teaching pilot project that is being administered by the Iowa Department of Education.

You may have read an article in the Courier a few weeks back that announced UNI had been the recipient of a $500,000 grant to complete what essentially amounts to a research project to find out if year long student teaching will better prepare preservice teachers. When developing their proposal, the University wanted to ensure that schools who accept student teachers were representative of students and schools in Iowa. So they asked Waterloo Schools to participate representing an urban setting, Linn Mar Schools as a suburban setting, and Hudson Schools to participate as a rural setting. We have always enjoyed a close working relationship with the University of Northern Iowa and were thrilled to be invited to participate in this exciting new pilot project. Our involvement in this pilot will better enable us to discover ways in which to prepare young people to become teachers while providing valuable data to the Governor, lawmakers, Department of Education, and Iowans in general.

We are still in the planning stages of this partnership, but I did want to take a few minutes to share some information about how we envision the year long teaching partnership to unfold. When we say 'year long student teaching' I would imagine that statement to generate a number of questions and concerns from parents! The first important item to note is that if your child is in a classroom with a student teacher participating in the year long pilot, you shouldn't worry. Your child will continue to be under the guidance of a fully certified classroom 'teacher of record'. The instructional model that we are developing will likely be based on a model of collaborative co-teaching. In other words, there will be more than one teacher in the classroom. Sometimes it may be the regular classroom teacher modeling a lesson that the student teacher observes, while another time it may be the student teacher presenting a lesson and the regular classroom teacher monitoring student progress and critiquing the student teacher's delivery of the instruction.

Year long student teaching means that while the student teacher will be immersed in a classroom and school district setting for the entire school year, it does not mean that they will be solely responsible for the instruction of a classroom of students. That still requires a fully licensed and certified teacher in the State of Iowa. We envision an immersion that includes a blend of field experience, laboratory experience, and classroom learning for the student teacher (such as a  methodology or human relations class). Plans are still under development, but we are closely working the the University of Northern Iowa on the logistics of this pilot. If you have any questions about our project, please feel free to give us a call.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cold Weather, Late Starts, and Indoor Recess!

Its time for my yearly article about weather related schedule changes! We are deep into the winter and the groundhog apparently saw his shadow last weekend. That means there are at least six more weeks of this long cold winter ahead of us! Cold is the operative word, isn't it? We have broken quite a few records and continue to be stuck indoors. I know the teachers sure would think it a nice day if the students could get outside for recess one of these days. Sorry teachers, I don't think we are going to see warm weather anytime soon.

For those of you keeping track, so far this year we have had the 'pleasure' of only two weather related cancellations (I have to be careful here; it is still February), but we have had multiple late starts. As I am writing this blog the list of schools announcing a late start for tomorrow are starting to pile up. Right now I am willing to hold out a bit longer. I am waiting for an updated weather report on the 10 o'clock news and am waiting to hear from my colleagues to the west. Those to the south and east have already decided to go late. I have already cancelled the morning schedule of activities so that buys some time. The problem with this winter has had more to do with the cold weather than with piles of snow. Of course there is still plenty of time for a big snowstorm.

As a youngster I remember sitting in front of the television in the evening just hoping that our school would be one of the lucky ones that had a late start or cancellation the next day. With my siblings we would watch the schools scroll by, one by one and wonder why on earth our school wasn't on the list yet. The real bummer was when the television program would go to a commercial break and interrupt the cue, only to have it return after the break and start over again with the 'A's (my school was a 'W' so it was extra frustrating!).

Then we would see that the school next door was cancelling and wonder why not ours? What was that crazy superintendent thinking anyway? I think as young people we all wish that we had that power--the power to give that wonderful gift to students! Well, its not all that it is cracked up to be.

We have been relatively lucky so far because we have been able to make most of our decisions early. Many times this year I have been able to decide the night before if we were going to delay or cancel. I know this is nice for everyone to know, especially parents who need to make child care arrangements. To be honest its nice for me to know too! Typically the decision making begins a day or two advance of the weather event, right about the time that the forecast is beginning to firm up.

There are consultations with the local meteorologists, and depending how big the pending weather is we may even have webinar meetings with the National Weather Service out of Des Moines. Then there are the phone calls with colleagues. It should come as no surprise that these decisions are not made in a vacuum, we all speak regularly and typically try to stick together as much as possible. I am sure the students know all the markers. (If only I could go back and tell my 10 year old self that 'Yes, my superintendent does know what the other superintendents are doing in the district next door.) Sometimes we are lucky enough to make that call the night before, but that is not always the case. Even though it is 2014 the weather forecasts are not perfect and are subject to change.

That means an early morning, usually starting somewhere between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m. Driving the roads to see firsthand just how bad those roads are. Then of course there are the phone calls between colleagues as we all try to make that solitary decision that is the best for our district.

I guess I should start to wrap this up. It is going to be really cold tomorrow and the phone calls are starting.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lowered Expectations

Leading up to the legislative session, I read a few articles that indicated this session would be a short one, a mere 100 days in length. I believe a normal session runs about 110 days, so that makes this one about two weeks shorter. Considering legislators only meet four days out of the week, that doesn't leave a lot of time for solving the problems of the state and developing policy that will enable us to move forward. Why the shortened session?

Because it is an election year. Legislators need to finish early so they can get home to start their campaign season. Prior to the start of this session, lawmakers from both caucuses made comments [that] issues which didn't receive consensus relatively quickly would likely fall by the wayside. Do you think this sends the message that being re-elected is more important than solving problems or rocking the boat? That's kind of the message that I am getting.

I suppose that means we should all lower our expectations and not expect anything too exciting or earth shattering to happen. After all, the agenda that was presented for consideration by the Governor in his annual Condition of the State Address was relatively modest.

Last week I attended the winter meeting of the Executive Leaders of Iowa in Ankeny. This group is comprised of superintendents from around the state and is an offshoot of the School Administrators of Iowa. The group meets quarterly, and our winter meeting is always aligned with the legislative session. We consider ourselves fortunate to have in attendance a balanced legislative panel (Democrats and Republicans) consisting of the Chairs of both the Senate and House Committee(s) on education. During our meeting there was no shortage of criticism from Iowa superintendents at the refusal of the House of Representatives to take up the issue of Supplemental State Aid. At the writing of this post, the Senate education committee has agreed to set Supplemental State aid at 6% and the full Senate is expected to vote this week. The House has held firm that they will not take up the issue, which is in line with the Governor.

For reasons why this is important, please refer to my post last week. I am not going to rehash those arguments again now, but was struck by a comment from one of my colleagues. It goes a little something like this:
"We hired you, right--elected you to come down here and do the work of the state--work for us. But you ignore the law that says you need to set supplemental state aid within 30 days of the Governor's budget. (See Code of Iowa 257.8) How is that right?"
The answer is unimportant, because by now we have all heard the same talking points. Ironically the reasons from each member are all the same--they borrowed the same song sheet, same play book, and same script...What it really does is go to the point that we started this blog with. Any issue that doesn't reach consensus quickly will be left for the next General Assembly. Again there are a lot of problems with this approach (notwithstanding violating Iowa Code) that have been argued time and time again. I guess that we need to lower our expectations.

Any issue that doesn't reach consensus quickly. My interpretation of that is 'safe' issues. Ones that aren't too controversial. Those that won't anger the voters, after all this is an election year. 

So then, about those low hanging fruit, the non-controversials? Well, we were honored to have the Governor and Lt. Governor attend our meeting on Friday morning. Governor Branstad had prepared remarks and wanted to spend his time with us talking about his education agenda for this legislative session. After finishing his prepared remarks, he opened up the floor for questions. I give him a lot of credit for this, because he had to know that superintendents wanted to talk about school funding, but it was very clear that he was uninterested in talking about Allowable Growth (or Supplemental State Aid as it is now called which he was sure to point out).

Anyway the 'signature' piece of education legislation the Governor wanted to talk about was proposed changes to the State's anti-bullying law, specifically a proposal to deal with cyber-bullying (which we all agree needs to be looked at). The proposal is designed to extend the authority of school administrators to incidents that happen beyond the confines of a school day. There are a couple of litmus tests that must be met, but the premise of the law gives administrators the authority to take action on cyber-bullying that takes place at night and on the weekends. Now there are many questions that need to be answered before this becomes a law, but that is not the purpose of this post. There is an appropriation of $25,000 (statewide) to get the new law up and running. At roughly 480,000 students in the state that works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of a nickel a kid. 

Lowered expectations.