Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Funding Dilemma

This excellent op-ed appeared in today's Times by a parent from Adams Elementary, Allison Krupnick. Her premise?

"The school-funding reality is that your child will have access to as many services as parents are willing and able to provide."

She starts off talking about how class size is the same (or bigger) since I-728 and then moves on to the issue of PTAs having to back up their school with fundraising or face the problems of larger class sizes. She's pretty frank about her understanding that this isn't even possible for every school. She also makes a point about upcoming tours:

Though school choice is supposed to be about choosing the best academic fit for your child, I've noticed a disturbing trend — parents are evaluating schools based on how much money is raised by the PTA. One parent even suggested we might be forced to "target" a certain "type" of parent (read financially well-off) to ensure that our funding base continues to grow."

Here's hoping the Legislature reads this important plea.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate this parent's concerns. My children are also at a school that raises funds. Due to similar concerns, I have thought about this at length, and looked into school budgeting to try and understand more. I have found that with the weighted student formula (moving to weighted staffing standards) some schools get larger amounts of funding from the District- and should, in my mind, because they have students with larger needs; other schools get thousands less. What I have found in looking at the details is that even a great deal of donated dollars cannot make up that difference, the higher needs schools have larger budgets because they need them. Then, for certain schools, there is the SE initiative which has supplemented needy schools' budgets even more. I guess for me I would rather the District spend as much as possible to help struggling schools, so that if parents are making up some difference privately, so be it. Bottom line is that we are public schools and no-one is turned away due to inability to raise $, so any parent is on equal footing with any other parent when it comes to school choice (and of course the enrollment factors). Still, though, I understand this parent's concerns; we want all schools to be quality schools independent of neighborhood/parent base.

I think a significant disparity comes in the intangibles. At my school there are a high number of stay at home parents who have time to volunteer in class, which allows for more adult to student attention. Several of us have been discussing this and are looking for ways to volunteer in other schools where there may be more working parents or less family involvement for other reasons. We want to sensitively approach this kind of volunteering and not assume other schools necessarily want outside volunteers, but if you know of an elementary school that would benefit from and welcome parent volunteers to assist teachers, please post here or email ptaconnects@gmail.com. Thank you.

Charlie Mas said...

I haven't seen yet how, exactly, the new weighted staffing standards will play out. I don't know if, as with the Weighted Student Formula, those funds will be augmented by compensatory education dollars or how additional funding for bilingual students and students with IEPs will be done. That's all still really unclear.

What is clear, however, is that the District should be doing some targeted class size reduction. Class sizes should be reduced for schools with a significant percentage of FRE students.

I also like the model presented by the Southeast Initiative in which resources are provided to struggling schools, but the dollars come with special accountability strings. So if the schools do not meet clearly defined targets, there the staff and leadership at the school lose autonomy and, if the low performance continues, their jobs.

I don't know how the schools spend the compensatory education money, but they should be using the bulk of it to reduce class sizes. Is there any accounting for how this money is spent?

dan dempsey said...

As I have mentioned before class size reduction is not a priority in Seattle. MG-J has clearly indicated this. There is no emphasis on reducing regular class size.

For this academic year 2007-2008, the SPS are spending money on academic coaches in math and literacy for teachers ($4.2 million) and Pathways program for high school WASL failures ($3.1 million). A lot of this is I-728 money. Reduction of regular class size is only one use for which I-728 money can be used. SPS have found lots of other ways to use it rather than reducing class size.

The above mentioned $7.3 million could buy more than 100 additional regular classroom teachers, which would have an impact on regular class size and also indicate that class size is a concern.

Get ready for additional special education student mainstreaming into regular classrooms.

Jet City mom said...

Why did we pass i-728 if it was not mandated to reduce class size?

The I-728 allocation will increase to $375 per student for the 2006-07 school year and an anticipated $450 per student in 2007-08. Under terms of the initiative, districts may also use the money for professional development and extended learning, such as before- and after-school programs.

Why can schools use this for "professional development" instead?
Don't they already have dedicated monies for that?
Have we seen better results when the money is used for professional development, than when it is used to reduce class size?

Anonymous said...

"Get ready for additional special education student mainstreaming into regular classrooms."

There already are 4 IEPs in my child's first grade classroom -- for a grand total of 31 students in the class. As a parent, I feel pressured to volunteer even more in the classroom (to make up for the inadaquate staffing). Maybe that is what the district is betting on...parents to take up the slack.
It's not just the education peice that students lose out on when we have such ratios. When class sizes increase, parents have fewer moments to consult with teachers. In addition, children who need adult role models lose the opportunity to develop a relationships with teachers, teacher morale goes down, and even the types of classroom activities change because of management/time constraint issues.
I would happily exchange after-school-activities or professional development over classroom size.

Anonymous said...

What is professional development? We're targeting it, but isn't it just a way of giving teachers class free time so that they don't burnout from dealing with 31 kindergarteners in their classroom?

(which, incidentally, would be my definition of hell).

(but, luckily, I'm not anyone's kindergarten teacher)

Anonymous said...

Honestly 31 first graders (presumably when the teachers are supposed to be teaching them to read). I can't even imagine how that can possibly work. And, I don't mean that facetiously. I really don't know how it would actually work.

Anony: want to update us on how they actually do it? Is it with heavy reliance on parent volunteers? or do they have resource specialists (i.e. extra teachers) coming into the classroom? Or are all the kids actually vastly different from my own first grader (who I think is a pretty good kid).

31 (or even 310) can work in a college classroom, but only because one expects that each student is completely responsible for themselves. First graders still need occasional help to go to the potty.

Jet City mom said...

apparently I-728 reduces class size- however I am still trying to find updated information on how the funds are used in schools.


Some of the most dramatic reductions have been in the primary school grades, where a focus on reading and literacy lays a strong foundation for academic success down the road. In schools using the money to reduce class size in grades one, two and three, the average class size has dropped from 27 to 21 students.

At my daughters school Garfield- class sizes are 32- as far as I can tell virtually every classroom.

So if you are the 33rd AP student who wants to take Calc BC, you are SOL, even if the teacher agrees on an override. Thats fine- it is the unions perogative to require schools to adhere to the contract.

But isn't there a big difference in atmosphere in a advanced classroom of prepared learners and one where kids are at different levels of understanding and appropriate behavior?

Those classes also are at 32 student & the teachers are often less experienced than the ones for the upper level courses.

It doesn't take much to throw the classroom off track when you have 32 students.