Bell’s School Funding Restrictions Advance

Jeremy Aldrich -- February 3rd, 2010

As reported by WHSV, Staunton Delegate Dickie Bell’s bill to establish a new requirement that schools spend 65% of their budgets on “instructional spending” is moving forward in the Virginia General Assembly.

The proposal was part of Gov. McDonnell’s campaign platform and Bell, a special education teacher at Riverheads High School, put forth the bill as one of his first legislative priorities. According to McDonnell’s campaign, the current “instructional spending” average for school divisions in Virginia is 61%.  The rub comes in deciding what exactly “instructional spending” is, and which types of “non-instructional spending” are most dispensable.  In its original form, the bill described “instructional spending” as:

“any current expenditures for activities directly associated with the interaction between teachers and students, including teacher salaries and benefits, supplies, textbooks, and purchased instructional services. ‘Instructional spending’ does not include expenditures such as food services; interscholastic athletics; community services; adult education; operation and maintenance of buildings; school administration; student support services for nurses, guidance counselors, and therapists; and student transportation.”

However, the bill was later revised to say that “The Board of Education shall promulgate regulations to define instructional spending.”

Groups sure to be watching the progress of this bill closely include school librarians (who are already worried about impending reductions in federal support for school libraries), guidance counselors, administrators, bus drivers, food service workers, and school nurses.  Many of those services are mandated by state code and federal law.

13 Responses to “Bell’s School Funding Restrictions Advance”

  1. sam says:

    I would be interested to see how much of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s Budgets go to administrative staff. Meaning people in the school board offices not directly relating to students. It sems to me that whenever cuts are made, teachers and teachers assistants are always the first to go. While adminstration staff never seems to get touched.

  2. Lowell Fulk says:

    Sam,
    Call your school board member and ask that they provide you with a summary breakdown.
    I made a PowerPoint presentation (2,000-2,003) titled, “Where Does the Dollar Go?” which provided a detailed breakout of the school system budget. Most people were pleased to learn more about how their hard earned tax moneys were utilized in Rockingham County Schools and the supporting system.
    Greater understanding is almost always helpful to everyone.

  3. Dany Fleming says:

    Sam, actually Harrisonburg was specifically noted by McDonnell as one of the districts already exceeding the 65% mark. He must have also noted Harrisonburg because of it’s good performance. Otherwise, it would have defeated his point.

    I applaud the effort to get more funds to the classroom. Students, parents and teachers deserve that. However, this bill is just a political gimmick to mask the fact that education funding is being cut. Though 65% seems like a reasonable mark, it will now just become an arbitrary government mandate. There’s no research pointing to the 65% benchmark.

    I don’t imagine Harrisonburg used 65% as a mark to determine its spending plan (though I don’t know for sure). I do imagine they used their educational knowledge to put funds where they believe they’re most needed.

    McDonnell, nor Bell, do not note, in-kind, that a number of top performing districts do not meet the 65% mark. Clarke Co., VA’s #1 performer, and Fairfax Co. are two that don’t. Their reward for exceeding expectations is for the state to now determine how they spend their local tax dollars. Both of those districts put in more local education dollars than they receive from the state.

    This doesn’t seem consistent with McDonnell’s call for less intrusive government. Along with the Republican-led No Child Left Behind legislation, Republican’s are certainly trying to take more government control over our local tax dollars – especially in education. Telling schools what kids need to learn (SOL’s) has merit. However, you can’t hold them accountable for the results if you then tell them how to teach, how to measure and how to spend.

    The better idea for school improvement is what’s done in states like Texas (the mother of school assessment) and Illinois. They identify poor performing schools (not districts), They send in education leaders with a proven history for improvement. They identify what’s needed, They work with the district, it’s principals and teachers to implement a best practices plan – providing funding that has strings attached. The results have been terrific.

    That’s rolling-up your sleeves and bringing solutions to the problems at the ground level. Blanket policies that tell your successful performers that they really don’t know what they’re doing is misguided.

    You know, I’m really trying to limit my long-winded education rants. But it’s usually too late when I catch myself getting on a roll.

  4. seth says:

    in the face of continuing research that indicates that the masters of teaching degree has ‘little to no effect on student achievement’ (http://www.nber.org/digest/aug07/w12828.html), i look forward to a day when we can have a truly honest conversation about education reform in our country (i hope we can agree that this sort of data would be unacceptable in almost any other professional field). the fact that teacher salaries and benefits head up the list of activities directly associated with the interaction between teachers and students, while interscholastic athletics, community service and guidance counseling are deemed to be outside of the realm of instructional spending is a real indicator (to me anyway) of just how warped our priorities are.

  5. Lowell Fulk says:

    Been studying education long Seth? If you’re interested I can point you in the direction of some good research based on real world performance on international testing comparisons. The study you provide is interesting but I’m going to need to read it this evening when I have more time to concentrate. On the surface I’ve already seen several contradictions in the conclusions drawn. It is dangerous to make a blanket statement such as is the title of your linked article, and quite inaccurate.

    We’ve seen good gains here in Rockingham County Schools which would refute some of the conclusions in the cited study.

    I’m glad you’re interested, but I am skeptical of the study.

    You say: “(i hope we can agree that this sort of data would be unacceptable in almost any other professional field)”

    I don’t agree. Tell me what other professional field undergoes the constant scrutiny to which public education is subjected?

    One of the biggest challenges faced by public education is the constant see saw of political whim in the pursuit of ‘more for less”…

    Keep in mind that America’s public education has been deemed by politicians, to be in a crisis of one form or another since Sputnik.

  6. Dany Fleming says:

    Seth – I certainly agree with you that interscholastic competition (not only sports), community service and guidance are vital education and instructional priorities. Chicago requires 40 hours of documented community service as a requirement for graduation.

    Though I haven’t read your report, I don’t dismiss that there may be little correlation between a teacher having a “master’s in teaching” and helping student achievement. That does not mean there aren’t ways to identify and reward excellent teaching that are more than just by experience and credentials.

    Your report may be more an indictment on a teacher training and credentialing system that needs vast improvements and is inconsistent across the board. There is plenty of data that shows that “excellent” teaching yields high achievement….the most direct correlation being that students with 2 out 3 “excellent” teachers in the K-2 years are most likely to be high achievers.

    So, teachers are at the top of the list because they have the most direct impact on student achievement.

    The current teacher reward system does little to sustain and motivate excellent teaching. What other professional field has such little financial incentives – and such few resources to create an incentivized system?

    Part of the education reform you want needs to start at teaching universities. They need to raise the bar, attract the best students and then pump out better prepared teachers. The catch-22 is that those better prepared teachers will warrant better salaries – like other professional fields. However, I think the civic and economic benefits will justify the investment for our country.

    Lowell is right about the challenge of the constantly shifting landscape and targets for teachers. He’s also right about the incomparable microscope which teachers operate under and the constant “crisis” call. These certainly do not help achievement or teacher morale.

    That you’re engaged in debating the heart of democracy – our education system – is a great start, though.

  7. I wonder how having an MBA makes you a “more effective” businessperson?
    I wonder how being an MD versus an RN or LPN makes you a “more effective” healer?
    I wonder how having a taxi license makes you a “more effective” driver?
    For that matter, I wonder how having a bachelor’s degree makes you a “more effective” anything than someone who is motivated and has relevant life experiences? So shall we stop rewarding people in those fields with those “unproven” degrees and licensures until we have better proof?

    I think the limited research that exists on teachers with or without masters degrees is fundamentally flawed (starting with the problem of trying to decide what an effective teacher is) and it’s way premature to say the limited studies that have been done are conclusive in any sense. Of course, I am a teacher who recently finished my masters so you have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

  8. Dany Fleming says:

    Jeremy – your analogies are exactly right. Other professions financially reward extra degrees without much fuss about it. However, while the degrees might open doors, they generally don’t guarantee you’ll get “unearned” raises or even job security.

    The problem in teaching is in having some form of accepted assessment for effectiveness – both for the sake of incentives and for the sake of knowing how to improve teaching. I don’t agree that the research is limited, though. It’s pretty extensive and longitudinal. That there’s arguments over validity and methodology are true.

    I certainly believe the current flawed standards testing system is a horrible measure of effectiveness in so many ways. It doesn’t relate individual student progress with a teacher, its content and measures change over time, it’s designed for built-in failure, etc.

    I do think there are effective measures. I also think whether teachers agree with them or not, assessments will continue to be implemented – good or bad. Parents pay and want to know about the teachers who’ll be guiding their children – that’s a fair request.

    So……I believe teachers need to take more of a lead in developing good measures of effectiveness. Like it or not, it’s coming down the pike and will be done with or without teacher input. If it’s without teachers, I have no doubt it will be flawed and a morale buster.

    The two largest unions have generally not been willing to take the reins on this. They need to be creative and willing to move from the status quo – they can’t just be the organization of “no.” They have been far too motivated to protect the lowest common denominator. Though it’s difficult, administrators need to be willing to move out bad teachers. About the only thing more difficult than firing a teacher is having a doctor losing his/her license for malpractice.

    By the way, Jeremy. Congrats on the Masters! I actually do believe it’s a reasonable part of the rubric in determining what qualifies you for a raise. I also have no doubt you’ll put it to good use.

  9. citydweller says:

    regarding assessment of good/bad teachers: a large factor in the difficulty of assessing whether or not a teacher is “good” or not is the particular students they teach. ask any teacher and they will tell you that smarter, more motivated kids from solid family backgrounds are much easier to teach and push toward high achievement than are students who are lazy, have no interest in school (because they only want to farm, be a mechanic etc..thus they think they don’t need traditional classes such as math, history) or have parents that don’t hold them accountable yet blame the teacher for everything. Yes I’m sure you’ll have people that will say, “well if you really are a good teacher you will motivate those kids,” however they likely have never set foot inside a school themselves. Sure there are some very good teachers and very bad teachers that are obvious to anyone, but for the most part you aren’t just comparing apples to apples when comparing effective teachers and therein lies the problem.

  10. seth says:

    this story:
    http://www.onpointradio.org/2010/01/teachers-and-education-reform
    had some really insightful things to say about education reform. jeremy, i respect good teachers a lot. however i do believe that with the exception of taxi drivers (and perhaps business people), the licensing/credentialing in the fields you mention is imperative in order to determine that an individual can do their job (i think you know this, and i think that the fact that programs like teach for america can put any college graduate in a classroom demonstrate that this is not currently so in the field of education). while all degrees are what you make them, i often wonder if our students wouldn’t be better served by teachers with master’s degrees in their subject areas. at any rate, while i don’t personally believe that master’s in teaching programs are as academically rigorous/valuable as other master’s degree programs that i’ve seen people complete, this isn’t really the drum i meant to bang here.

    what i really meant to point out is that categorizing teacher compensation as instructional spending seems misquided, particularly when areas that are incredibly important to the personal development of students are being omitted from this category (playing it out, it would seem completely crazy to me if i read that physician’s compensation is an activity directly associated with the interaction between doctors and patients). let me again reiterate how valuable a good teacher is. let me again reiterate that we should pay those people well just as soon as they establish that they are good at what they do. let me again reiterate that 40k a year (plus benefits) is a ridiculous place to start a 22 year old with a one year master of teaching degree in our community (particularly when they’re getting paid to stay at home on a day that, as i’ve established in the past, they’d need to work 10 hours in order to equal the 40 hour per week, year long schedule of the genreral public (and if you guys make up all snowdays, then i apologize for my misconception).

    i believe that there are a number of things that we can do in order to advance our society’s perception of teachers as professionals on par with doctors, lawyers, et al. maintaining their compensation regardless of skill and acting as if things that serve their personal interests necessarily serve those of their students doesn’t strike me as one.

  11. BANDIT says:

    I’m confused…If you go to valottery.com, the first thing they mention is ” Helping Virginia’s Public Schools” and right after that it says “More than 4 BILLION contributed to Public Education.” The last I heard, Virginia Lottery sales are up. So, why are school budgets getting cut?

  12. Lowell Fulk says:

    Bandit,
    Here is a link explaining the history of how lottery money has been allocated to education.

    The budget shortfall is enormous, responsible budgeting process at the local level results in lottery money being used for one time expenses rather than operating expenses due to the unpredictable revenue stream and ever changing political climate.

    Sales tax in VA plays a direct role in funding public education as well, so when retail sales are down, so also are the revenues available for school divisions.

  13. BANDIT says:

    Thank You Lowell, however, when you read the Virginia Lottery information, it seems it is false advertising or misleading to say the least….wouldn’t you agree? Please go to their site and look for yourself. You would think all Va. Lottery monies go to the School system the way it comes across.

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