What Should the State Fund For Education?

So elsewhere a reader said this:

I understand the state pushed the responsibility of purchasing books onto the District. Hopefully, we could get a line item for books while trying to get the government to assume responsibility for basic educational needs.

(As an aside, I'm looking into this whole textbook replacement issue. It seems that some information told to me was wrong, namely that the state funds textbooks but only every 18 years.)

The district is embarking on early discussions about next year's budget so now is a good time to talk.

What struck me about the comment above was the term "basic educational needs." First, how do we define those? Off the top of my head:
  • a clean, safe building
  • qualified teachers/principal
  • textbooks no older than 10 years old (especially for science and/or history/social studies)
  • instructional materials (I don't even know if this still gets funded but paper, pencil, ruler, glue, crayons, stapler, etc)
  • other instructional materials (workbooks, etc.)
  • at least one computer in the classroom
  • reading library in the room (for elementaries)
  • available reading/research materials (library with computers, books and research docs available)
What would be basic to learning in a 21st century classroom?

Second, if the state allots each district X amount of dollars (non-specified), should it be the district's duty to make sure those basic educational needs are satisfied first?

Third, should the state allot for each of the above items to districts or allow districts leeway to get the items as they see fit? So should it be the state's duty to keep up on what each district needs for textbooks or should the money just flow to the districts AND they decide when to replace books?

Lastly, how do you balance trying to create district-wide academic advancements via creating new initiatives versus making sure that that every classroom's basic educational needs are met?


seattle citizen said…
I would suggest that there needs to be...five or six computers in each 21st century classroom. Not for doing all digital teaching/learning, of course, but because computers and their tools are part of today's world and students should have at least some access to them.

One computer in a room is just the teacher's computer. Two includes a "presentation station" computer, set up to run a document camera and projector. Four or five more allow a group of students to rotate through usage. One student computer is not really worth a lot, though in a pinch a group could work at it.
dan dempsey said…
I still wish to know where the Positive ruling in the "NEWS" lawsuit over school funding has gone?

Off to the next court I suspect.

On the Computer issue:

I think that depends on State Education Standards as a curriculum and is a computer needed to provide an effective learning situation? If so how many?

I am sure TI would love to see a TI-84+ in every kid's hands for school years k-12.
seattle citizen said…
Yeah, there's that, Dan - much of the "reform" being touted is based, I believe, on the belief that most of education can be digitized and standardized into data packets. Not only is this bad, but it opens the doors to lots of companies to pour millions into lobbying for such things. Not that NWEA would ever do such a thing, of course...

But this does bring up the issue: If the state is supplying money or goods, and if there are powerful industry lobbies looking for a piece of the pie, might we see more packaged curriculum and technology, even if it's not appropriate?
For instance, that company that sells the electric shock device to zap teachers who aren't being "quality" enough at any given moment, as measured by real-time assessment digitally gathered...
Greg said…
That's an excellent list, Melissa, and very close to what I would pick too. An interesting question would be how many of those currently are being done?
Jet City mom said…
Second, if the state allots each district X amount of dollars (non-specified), should it be the district's duty to make sure those basic educational needs are satisfied first?

And & they don't the city/state, takes over the management of the district.

Those who collect the taxes that pay for the services have a duty to insure it is going toward what it was intended to cover.
dan dempsey said…

Take a look at the likely coming strong suggestions about STEM coming from Feds..... big inquiry coupled with big discovery and huge spending on Tech hardware and products.

The White House STEM plan.

wsnorth said…
I used to think the State should pay for all this stuff, but I am beginning to wonder. Some demographics, or parts of the state, seem to be a bunch of freeloaders who don't want to pay their taxes or pay their own way in society. If I choose to live in Seattle or a suburb, and grudgingly pay my taxes, what do I owe to the freeloaders? I pay for the schools, I pay for the war, I pay for the stadiums, it is my choice to live here. Do I want to send my tax $$ to areas of "rugged, but heavily subsidized" individuals who want all the state and federal services for free? Not really. On the other hand, should their children suffer for their selfishness?
Meg said…
I remarked on it in an earlier thread, but our district doesn't fund according to budget priorities. SPS sets central budgets before school budgets. If I were to do the domestic equivalent, I would budget shoes and booze first, and then allocate what's left for food and the mortgage. In a business, it's the equivalent of setting the budget for non-essential operations ahead of essential operations. So let me repeat: SPS first develops and sets central budgets, and then goes on to develop school budgets. In flush times, such a method might work out fine, but in lean ones it means that schools get what's left over. Schools First is out trying to drum up support for the supplemental levy and convince taxpayers will give money to a district that has structured its budgeting process to put schools... last.

It also probably means that even if the state did a better job of funding, until SPS corrects some serious structural problems embedded in the very way it creates budgets, SPS schools will continue to be under-funded. Fixing this is actually very simple. Set school budgets first, and give the highest budget priority to the most important function in the district - educating SPS students.

I've written at least one director to suggest that a simple reversal of the budgeting process would be sensible. I encourage all of you to do so, as well.
Alexander Hamilton said…

I would be happy to write to the directors. However, I feel I know only enough about budget processes to appear slightly foolish.

To just say "budget at the school level first" then do the rest of the budget.

Is that right? Is that how I should put it in my correspondence to the directors?

If I were magically transformed into the CEO of the District I think the first thing I would do would be to gather the principals from each cluster and ask them what are their needs and what are their priorities.

Then I'd work with the finance folks to see what we can do to deliver the goods that the principals identified.

Finally, I'd structure my central staff in a way the supports the principals (who, in turn, should be supporting the teachers).

I think your budgeting process would mirror this operational/leadership approach.


Now, can I have the 250k a year with the 700 per month car allowance and all the power points I want job?
ttln said…
one computer/room is not a level field, it also limits the innovation potential of the classroom teacher. it does increase their McGuyver (sp?) skills, but i don't think that is what they legislated.
if i had kids on laptops in my class (like many in surrounding districts), oh the coolness we could have! ARC GIS, the writing and publishing potential, and more that i cannot even give thought to because i'm relegated to McGuyver innovation.
MJ said…
When you have all these extra people running around our buildings--math coaches, data coaches, and their supervisors and the supervisor's supervisor, and the district is spending how many million to implement a MAP test that is not 100 percent correlated to the state test or state standards, you gotta ask yourself, "How is this happening?" And what exactly do those people in the district office do all day? Who exactly does the work during the day anyway in this "business" of ours--who is actually "working" other than the teachers who are teaching? Can anyone who blogs on here and works in the district office please have the decency to tell us what you do every day from 9 to 5? I say, go to England's model, get rid of everyone in the district office, and just have the sup.t be the one, sole supervisor who travels from school to school. There's how you balance your budget.
Meg said…
I'd say it like this:

Dear Director X:

I am writing to urge you to change the budget development process in order to ensure a more durable funding model for schools and students. I believe that a simple start to this process could be to change the budget development calendar. Most organizations develop the budgets of critical operations first, even in an interative budgeting process. Seattle Public Schools, however, develops central budgets first, and then school budgets. While I understand that tweaks are likely made to central budget after initial budgets are made, the result of this budgeting model appears to be that schools get what’s left over. I know that it is a priority of every director to help create a durable, functional funding structure for schools, and I believe that a simple change in the budget development process would be a significant first step in making that happen.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Meg said…
Is the suggested note obnoxious? Yes. But thanks for being patient with me. I haven't had enough coffee to come up with a couple of points to stick into a note, rather than just a note.

I do think that changing the process could help schools. However, any system can be gamed. If I was protecting my central budget, I'd game this one by thrusting costs that haven't been part of school budgets back onto schools, whether they are essential direct student services (which includes district-wide stuff like transportation and nutrition) or not.

It would then look as if schools have more money, even if their budgets are the same size or smaller.

Unless the board is willing to watch budget development like hawks, and insist on line by line analysis (and comparison to previous years), I would expect that to be the likely result. So... yes, it could be a promising way to get schools funded well, but there has to be serious political will (and even better would be total determination on the part of district management) on the board to make sure it's happening.
zb said…
Meg -- I couldn't write your letter, because I have no idea what you mean by "central" budgeting and "school" budgeting.

Could you translate that into something practical on which items are budgeted for first and second?
Eric B said…
I would suggest that every classroom should have a reading library, not just elementary. A middle school LA class library will be a lot different from a high school physics class library, but there should still be a resource for teachers and students to learn more about the subject in class. Elementary libraries would of course be much broader.
Kathy said…
" district doesn't fund according to budget priorities. SPS sets central budgets before school budgets."

At last night's budget meeting- Directors are wanting School Budget Development before Central Budget Proposals.
Anonymous said…
i've been in the catherine blaine gym and CLEAN is definitely not top priority for SPS. the floor was disgusting. part of the reason i decided not to send my child there.
Jet City mom said…
When we can't seem to get safety covered ( does Nova have a working fire alarm system yet?), it is easy to see how other basics like cleanliness and other maintenance issues get short shrift.

Before computers in the classroom/ or even classroom libraries, I would prefer to reduce class sizes - I think that has the largest impact on childrens education.
We need to restructure the system of funding for public education. Public schools are failing because property taxes and state sales and income tax vary on location. Depending on the property wealth of a community, its schools might boast gleaming buildings and equipment, or they might be dilapidated.

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