Wednesday, January 27, 2016

NCLB is Finally Left Behind

On December 10th, 2015, President Obama signed the 'Every Student Succeeds Act' (ESSA) into law, leaving 'No Child Left Behind' (NCLB) in the rear view mirror. It is way too early too tell if this law will be the panacea it is heralded to be, but there is some positive news with this re-authorized legislation. For starters, we can celebrate that the locus of control has shifted away from the federal government and back to state and local authorities where it belongs. 

There must be no doubt the premise behind NCLB was honorable. Designed in part to address a growing achievement gap in minority, poverty, and other subgroup populations of students; the legislation required that school districts disegregate these student achievement data and devise plans to close the gap. Prior to NCLB, differences in achievement among subgroups may not have been widely known or scrutinized because we didn't look at data that way. Consider a school where 90% of all students are meeting growth expectations year after year. At first blush, this seems like an impressive statistic. But what if we look at the 10% that didn't meet expectations and realize those 10% are in a minority subgroup or students of poverty? NCLB forced schools to shine a light on these groups and take action on what they saw. Where NCLB fell short was in the implementation of an accountability system that included a heavy reliance on standardized testing and unrealistic, unattainable goals for student achievement. Remember, NCLB set 2014 as the year in which all students in America would be proficient in math and reading. Schools who did not reach this benchmark would be faced with stiff sanctions that could include such things as loss in federal funding, termination of teaching staff, and firing of the building principal. 

The new law still requires districts publicly report achievement data for various subgroups, but provides states and local school districts with the flexibility to develop goals and plans that make the most sense as opposed to a one size fits all system. As a practical matter, arbitrary and unrealistic goals for student learning outcomes are now a thing of the past. However, we will still continue to disegregate, report, and develop comprehensive plans designed to address the achievement gap. In Iowa, we have recently released the Iowa Report Card, (IRC) which you may recall reading about in my blog a few weeks ago. I would anticipate the Iowa Report Card will continue to be a component of our educational landscape for some time to come. The fact is, if you recall our prior conversation, this was implemented as part of the educational reform law passed by the Iowa General Assembly in 2013 known as House File 215. Since the new ESSA requires states to develop their own accountability systems, the IRC may satisfy this requirement. 

Irregardless of how the IRC is changed, modified, or otherwise evolves in the coming years it will be important for all stakeholders to understand contextually what this and other so called report cards tell us. In its current iteration, 80% of the IRC ranking is derived from how our students perform on the Iowa Assessments. That is one test, given on one day. While we were thrilled with our results and enjoyed the accolades, that ranking does not tell the entire story of a school's success. I recall a colleague sharing recently the pride they had in their elementary school at earning a Blue Ribbon designation from the federal Department of Education. They were invited to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony and savored the attention. A mere two years later that same school, with the same staff found themselves on the federal SINA list!

So about that testing? I can't remember a time as a student that I didn't take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Likewise, I can't remember a time in my career as an educator when I didn't proctor or administer the Iowa Assessments (which by the way are the same thing as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills--but you already knew that didn't you?). The new ESSA doesn't change the testing scheme all that much. However, the test that we use to measure progress is a story that is yet to be told! After the state legislature fumbled the ball on this point, the state board of education accepted a recommendation to move away from the Iowa Assessments to the Smarter Balance. We are in the rule making process right now and it will remain to be seen if our legislature intervenes to either stop, postpone, or otherwise derail these efforts. I am not opposed to changing the assessment so long as everyone clearly understands that there will be an implementation dip (this test is much more rigorous than the Iowa Assessments) and that an appropriation will be necessary for the administration of the test (it will cost Hudson somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000 to administer). 

Finally then, for those out there that think this new law means the end of the Common Core or any statewide set of highly rigorous standards I say--not so fast. Remember, the rise of the Common Core had nothing to do with the 2002 NCLB law. The Common Core was a state led initiative. Where we got sideways with the Common Core was when states were allowed to pursue a waiver from some sanctions in NCLB. Part of that waiver process required states to adopt the Common Core. The new legislation prohibits the federal government from requiring states to adopt any uniform set of standards, common or otherwise.

For the time being, we are letting the clock run out on NCLB. Next school year will be a transition away from this law and the new ESSA will go into effect during the 2017-2018 school year. Let's hope this law does what it intends to, truly helps every student succeed!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Impact of Not SAVE(ing)

The one cent sales tax for school infrastructure has been around since the late 1990s, and was implemented to help schools address serious deficiencies in buildings. Prior to this sales tax, the primary option available to schools for infrastructure and building was a general obligation bond issue. A general obligation bond issue is a question for voters and passage requires what is known as a super majority (60%) to pass. In many cases a bond issue vote results in an increase to property taxes, so passing bond issues is no easy task.  The one cent sales tax permits school districts to issue revenue bonds against future sales tax collections to address school infrastructure. At it's inception, it was a county-by county referendum that required only a simply majority of voters (50+1). School districts then had to take the extra step of passing what is known as a Revenue Purpose Statement (RPS). Our most recent RPS was passed with 96% voter approval in September of 2011. You can check out our Revenue Purpose statement right here. The point of the RPS is to outline for constituents exactly how the revenue will be invested. 

Because it was a county by county issue an unseen inequity arose. Counties with large population centers likely have more (and larger) retail establishments, thus generating more in sales tax revenue for the citizens and school districts located in that particular county. Naturally, school districts in these counties were the beneficiaries of greater bonding capacity. The legislature addressed this inequity in both 2003 and in 2008. In 2003, a mechanism was designed to even out the revenue between counties, and in 2008 it was changed from a countywide sales tax to a statewide sales tax. This was met with resistance because it was believed that once it became a statewide sales tax, the legislature might at some point re-purpose this revenue away from school district infrastructure, which is contrary to the original question asked of the voters.

This is where we find ourselves today. In 2010, Iowans voted to amend article VII of the state constitution to establish a natural resources trust fund. This fund is designed in part to improve water quality in our state. However, the fund currently doesn't have any money in it. While the amendment stated that 3/8 of one cent be allocated to the fund, it only becomes effective the next time sales tax is increased. The issue became even more prevalent this past spring when the Des Moines water works filed suit in federal court, suing three northern Iowa counties for water pollution. 

Well, there is no appetite for an increase in sales tax, so the governor has suggested diverting a portion of the revenue growth that comes from the school infrastructure sales tax to water quality programs. Currently this sales tax is scheduled to sunset in 2029, and for the last several years we have been advocating for either an extension of the sales tax or a repeal of the sunset. What the governor has proposed is extending the sales tax until 2049 (that is the good news) and capturing a portion of the revenue growth going forward (that is the bad news). Of that growth, the first $10 Million of growth would be allocated to school infrastructure, and the remaining balance of the growth would go to water quality. Additionally and unfortunately, the proposal also begins to capture this revenue immediately, which is before the original sunset expires.

Impact of Governor Branstad's SAVE Proposal
(Graphic courtesy of Iowa Association of School Boards)
As you can see from the chart, the impact of depressed revenue growth is immediate. For the current fiscal year, the per pupil allocation is around $953, which equates to approximately $621,356. If we assume a very conservative 2.83% increase in revenue, by 2029 the per pupil allocation would grow to $1,332. If enrollment remained stable, our SAVE revenue would grow to $868,484. However, under the governor's proposal, by 2029 the per pupil allocation would be $1,191. Again, assuming enrollment remains relatively stable, that would suggest the 2029 revenue stream at about $776,532. That is a difference of $91,952, but that is for that year only! This doesn't consider the compounding effect of this proposal, which tells quite a different story.

Using the same figures from above (2.83% growth and stable enrollment) from this point forward until the expiration of the sales tax, total revenue generated by SAVE will be $9,607,872. But, under the governor's plan that would be reduced by 5% or $480,393.60. That $480,393.60 would go a long way toward the renovation costs of our elementary school.

A special thank you to Shawn Snyder, IASB Financial Support Director for his assistance with these calculations.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

We Are Going to Need a Little Help Here

According to a U.S. News and World report, education funding hasn't recovered from what has been dubbed 'The Great Recession'. In Iowa when adjusting for inflation, education funding has grown a mere .04% since 2008. I know what some will say, "We are better off that a lot of states. Many have it far worse than Iowa-they have had their funding slashed."

While that is an argument that can be made, I certainly don't think a .04% increase is something that we should be bragging about or making a 'Yeah but,' comment. That is less than a percent folks, in an eight year period nonetheless, and our budget grew more than that by just turning on the lights. Argument that schools, and in particular Hudson, are inefficient and need to 'tighten their belts' just doesn't pass muster. Consider this, we cut roughly $577,000 in expenditures in 2011 and even when you extrapolate that out our budget has still grown in excess of .04% since 2008. 
Back in August I outlined four important and crucial issues where advocacy will be important. Now that the General Assembly is once again in session, I think its necessary to revisit those issues and remember that none is more important than adequate and timely supplemental state aid. To remind everyone, by law, supplemental state aid is to be settled within 30 days of the governor releasing his budget. By the way, the supplemental aid that we are talking about is for the fiscal year that is scheduled to begin on July 1, 2017. It would indeed be wonderful if we were talking about that, but we still haven't decided on supplemental state aid for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2016--so the legislature is already in violation of state law. 

To take a brief trip down memory lane, supplemental state aid for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2015 wasn't resolved until July 3, 2015 when Governor Branstad vetoed $55 Million--a loss of approximately $70,000 for Hudson schools. 

So here we are. Once again, it's showtime. Yesterday the governor presented his Condition of the State address and outlined his spending plan for next year. That started the 30 day clock ticking. Unfortunately I am not at all optimistic the issue will be resolved in the legally prescribed time frame. Now, our legislators are expecting to hear from guys like me (school superintendents) and, while they are usually polite those conversations are not all that impactful. If school funding is important to you, I would encourage you to please contact your legislator and let them know that not only do we need timely state supplemental aid set, bet we also need adequate supplemental state aid set. You can find your legislator right here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What Will Tomorrow Bring?

Happy New Year! It is sure great to be back in school and see everyone! I hope you all had a wonderfully relaxing Christmas break and are eager to start the second half of the school year. Do you sometimes wonder where all the time goes? Semester tests are on Thursday and Friday, and we will start second semester next week! It seems like only yesterday we were welcoming our students back from summer vacation. In the blink of an eye, it is 2016! The older I get, the fast the time seems to fly by!

As we look forward to the fresh start of a brand new year, it is traditional to pause and look back at the year we have just ended. Reviewing some 50 blog posts from this last year it is apparent that we have had quite a journey! In my first post of the new year, I shared how it was my goal to be grateful for the gift of each day:
 'Even when the day isn't going so hot, there are things to be grateful for', I proclaimed.
Upon honest reflection, I certainly wasn't thinking how grateful I was when we were going through some of those less than pleasant days! Not every day was sunshine and daisies, but each of those days put us on the path to the next. Truth be told those days helped form the direction we now find ourselves headed. As we close out 2015 and begin 2016 hopefully we can see that things eventually turn out. I suppose that is due to the resiliency of our school and community.

Fortunately there has been a lot to celebrate in 2015! Those days far outweighed the others. It was relatively easy on those days to consider how grateful I was! For many, May 17th, 2015 stands out as a day to celebrate. Graduation day! We witnessed 57 young people walk across the stage that afternoon and become alumni of Hudson High School. One of many highlights in 2015!

Our school district was among the early implementers of a teacher leadership system. One of the first 39 in fact! Although we launched ours in July of 2014, it really began to hit it's stride in 2015. This fall we have begun to reap the benefits of this system as more teachers take advantage of the leverage this type of collaboration can have on student instruction. Strong instruction leads to better student outcomes, of this we can be certain!

We have enjoyed celebrating the success of our students as well. Recently we were honored to be counted among the top performing high schools in the state. And who can forget the success of our athletes and musicians? Girls track state champions, four students selected to the prestigious Iowa All-State Chorus, first football playoff win since the 1995 championship season...we could fill up this post celebrating and being grateful for the accomplishments of our students.

Now we turn the calendar to 2016, we can't help but wonder what's next? What will happen tomorrow that will shape the day that follows tomorrow? I wonder-when we get to the end of 2016, what will fill this column?