Make school spending count
Thursday, January 31, 2013
There was a provocative discussion in a state Senate committee hearing last week about the relationship between education spending and outcomes that ought to motivate us to find more creative solutions to improve schools.
Dr. Marguerite Roza of Georgetown University presented research showing that there is no correlation between spending and outcomes on both a state and national level. This raises the obvious question of whether it’s wise to continually add more money to a system without some assurance that it will have a positive impact on student achievement. Roza was previously at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Publication Education and the Gates Foundation as a data and economic adviser.
At a time when Washington state’s budget is upside down and lawmakers are discussing the daunting task of making education investments of between $1 billion and $4 billion annually to meet the Supreme Court’s mandate to fully fund education as a result of the McCleary case, this is exactly the kind of out-of-the-box analysis that needs to seriously considered.
We have a responsibility to fully fund schools but we have a companion responsibility to use dollars effectively and efficiently. So we must address both issues together.
The data is clear, Roza said. If we maintain our current approach, education spending will grow faster than revenues to pay for it, which will force cuts elsewhere.
Benefits are a significant driver of the increasing cost of education, according to Roza. Nationally, spending on benefits jumped from 22.4 percent of total education spending in 2004 to 30 percent in 2008, which has the effect of crowding out services. Obviously, the taxpayers and students of this state deserve to get the biggest bang for the dollars spent in our schools. That means finding creative solutions that lead to better outcomes for students. The one-size-fits-all model is clearly deficient.
The problem is that we have a system where dollars are tied to specific delivery mechanisms. Roza’s work suggests that more creative solutions will be discovered at the local level by providing schools with the funding and holding them accountable for the outcomes rather than continuing to mandate statewide solutions to academic improvement.
“Instead of getting funds for a teacher, a counselor ... the school would get some fixed amount for each regular education student, and a different amount for each poor student..,” Roza explained in an email. “One district might pay expert teachers more to take on larger classes, or use some online courses to offer (advance placement) electives.”
Local solutions are best, as long as outcomes are clearly defined and measured.
This is a more entrepreneurial way to approach education that would empower teachers and administrators to create the best solutions.
Outcome-based approaches have worked well in other contexts in our community. For example, the Chelan County Public Utility District’s Habitat Conservation Plan, which was based on achieving better results for fish, has been a remarkable success with far fewer legal headaches than arguing with the tribes, the federal government, state agencies and interest groups about each aspect of operating Rocky Reach Dam. By all measures, it has led to a more effective way to enhance fish survival.
That same outcome-based thinking ought to be applied to our education system. Otherwise, we will simply add dollars to a system with no measurable impact on performance and that would be unconscionable. Let’s make our school spending count.
Rufus Woods is editor and publisher of The Wenatchee World. Reach him at email@example.com or 665-1162.
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