Friday, January 26, 2007

Republican Education Priorities

I've pulled these from the TeamGOP blog entry listing the Tennessee Republican Caucus priorities for this session and included my comments.

Education First Act

The House Republican Caucus is proposing the Education First Act, which would require that the General Assembly pass the education budget first, before considering other budgetary items. Prioritizing education spending would help the education system get the funding it deserves and avoid the reallocation of those funds to other programs.

Yes! It's an annoying joke that Tennessee is 1st in roads and 49th in schools. If this is a priority--prove it. Deal with this before you fulfill promises to the road builder lobby, the tobacco lobby, the liquor lobby...

Lottery Reserves

Another piece of Caucus legislation moves to use some of the excess proceeds from the lottery to fund capital improvements for K-12 schools. As of July 2006, Tennessee had $323.4 million in its Lottery Reserve Account. The constitutional amendment that authorized the lottery allowed for excess proceeds to be used to fund capital outlay projects for K-12 facilities. The bill will propose to take lottery funds in excess of $250 million and distribute them statewide on a per-pupil basis, with a 50 percent local match required.

OK, I have problems with the term 'surplus'. There is surplus because legislators manipulate the amount of money they give in scholarships in order to create this 'surplus'. It's not that it would all go unused otherwise.

I would encourage legitimate capital improvements over pre-K. No money for redoing the quad. Classrooms, HVAC, mold eradication, ADA compliance, clean water and security measure are all legitimate, in my opinion.

Basic Education Program Funding Formula

The Basic Education Program is the funding formula the state uses to determine the funds necessary for each school system to provide a basic level of education for its students. The level of funding includes an amount the state should pay and an amount that local governments should pay for education. This year, it is estimated it will cost the state an extra $90 million to fully fund the formula for K-12 schools as it is because of expected growth. Lawmakers have discussed the possibility of proposing legislation this year that would alter the formula. For example, it has been suggested that the program should send extra money to schools in anticipation of growth, instead of waiting until the growth occurs within the school system.

I like the anticipation of growth suggestion. I would like to see some mechanism for ensuring that if the growth didn't occur (these sorts of numbers are notoriously difficult to nail down) then the money will be deducted from the next year's funding.

Pre-K Program

The administration has discussed expanding the Pre-K program by $25 million a year. The administration is also asking that the legislature remove the restrictions that limit enrollment to lower income or at-risk students. School districts are expected to ask for an additional 200 classrooms this year, and if the restrictions are removed, the education commissioner expects an additional 147 classrooms will be requested to accommodate interested students. The 200 classrooms would cost $20.2 million and the 347 classrooms would cost $33.3 million.

I remain unconvinced that Pre-K's impact lasts beyond the elementary years. Many people see this as free glorified daycare but for the sake of what they've been told are 'at risk' children they'll fork over the tax money. They won't be happy to see this expanded to everyone.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are authorized under legislation passed in 2002 and there have numerous complaints about the current process and procedures. Some fear that the schools, which can only teach students who previously attended failing schools, rely too much on the failure of those schools. Further, when the failing schools begin to perform at the standard, charter schools lose their enrollment.

Reforming the process of funding for charter schools may be on the agenda this year. As it stands now, a public charter school may apply to the local board of education to create a new school, or a sponsor may apply to the local board of education to convert an existing public school into a public charter school if 60 percent of the school’s teachers or parents of the school’s children sign a petition supporting said conversion.

Yes, our charter legislation was conveniently written to nearly ensure the failure of the charter schools. (See we told you they weren't needed.) We need some boundaries for these school boards who find it all to easy to deny these applications and we need a legitimate appeal process. They should not be limited to students from failing schools (failing students is better) but thrown open to the public at large. (Have we not learned anything from the recent magnet school lottery applications in Metro Nashville. Parents WANT other choices.) If the school's or student's AYP continues as the criteria for enrolling their improvement should not mean the child is returned to their zoned school. The system had their chance. No take backs. Regular public schools ought to be held to the same standards.

And let's remember, these are still PUBLIC schools. These are still PUBLIC school students. If a system says their budget will get hit--that's misinformation at best and a panic inducing lie at worst. Their enrollment is smaller and so their budget ought to be smaller.

UPDATE Saturday 1/27/07: Rep. Stacy Campfield says this isn't really a Republican Priority list but a list of what is likely to be discussed in this General Assembly. Read his explanation here.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I agree with a lot here. On quick glance, the Education First Act makes a lot of sense. I hope my Dem legislator will support it. We should get the council to pass a similar measure.

As for "scholarships" they should either raise the qualifications for getting the scholarship or start calling it what it is- a grant. I have no problem with where the standards are for keeping them once in college. Often it is a hard adjustment at first, and students tend to do a lot better when they get to their major classes.

I support Pre-K for families of poverty, but agree capital needs is pretty important.

"Some fear that the schools, which can only teach students who previously attended failing schools, rely too much on the failure of those schools. Further, when the failing schools begin to perform at the standard, charter schools lose their enrollment."

We wouldn't totally agree on all this charter school stuff, but I do agree that no school (and here I mean the zone school) should have an absolute right to enroll a student. It's true in a system with both charters and magnets that there is a sense of entitlement to enroll the students in that student's zone school. Students who go elsewhere have "been stolen" by the other schools. That is an unfortunate, perhaps dangerous perception. Students don't belong to schools, schools should belong to the families who choose them.