How will the new education aid money be distributed (and spent)?

The Education and FMAP bill (HR 1586) that passed the House today is expected to give North Carolina $298.5 million for spending on teaching and support staff around the state. This is equivalent to just over 4% of the state spend on K-12 education. It is estimated that the aid will provide approximately 5700 jobs this coming school year.

Under the provisions of the Act, states are allowed to choose between two options in deciding how to distribute money. The bill reads:

Funds used to support elementary and secondary education shall be distributed through a State’s primary elementary and secondary funding formulae or based on local educational agencies’ relative shares of funds under part A of title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 6311 et seq.) for the most recent fiscal year for which data are available.

What the primary formulae are in the case of North Carolina is not a straightforward question. The state has over a dozen formulae to divvy out K-12 education dollars. By far the most significant of those is for classroom teachers, which is based on annual daily membership of a school district or ADM. ADM is a measure of the number of students being educated in any one school district.

But other formulas are used to give out big dollars too, especially the children with disabilities allotment, the ‘low wealth counties’ formula that gives dollars to school districts with low property wealth and per capita incomes, the ‘at-risk student services’ allotment, which is used to fund security officers and alternative instructional programs for students at-risk of failure, and the transportation allotment.

A straight Title I distribution would favor urban districts with high numbers of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, i.e. Durham, Forsyth and Guilford, plus poorer rural counties such as Robeson, Halifax and Scotland. A method that places greater emphasis on ADM would favor the large wealthier school districts, such as Wake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

A method that allocated the new dollars according to the distribution shares of all the current formulae would be advantageous to larger wealthy urban districts compared to a straight Title I distribution but not to the same degree as a straight ADM distribution would be.

A second critical point of interest regarding the new aid is whether any of the dollars will be used for early childhood services. Under the Senate bill, the money:

[M]ay be used only for compensation and benefits and other expenses, such as support services, necessary to retain existing employees, to recall or rehire former employees, and to hire new employees, in order to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational and related services

The state clearly has an opportunity here to replace some or all of the $10 million taken from the NC Partnership for Children (Smart Start) and More at Four. Needless to say, this is money well spent. As the STAR study update recently reminded us, there is compelling evidence that investments in children, particularly those from poor households pays healthy dividends in terms of lower remedial education, welfare, criminal justice and public health costs and higher labor productivity.

Arizona’s new low

From the edweek blog yesterday is news that:

Tom Horne, Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, has told the superintendent of Arizona’s Tucson Unified School District that he will announce a withholding of 10 percent of the district’s funds as soon as a new law goes into effect Dec. 31 that bans classes designed for a particular ethnic group. Horne made the threat in a letter sent today to John Carroll, the superintendent of Tucson Unified. He also formally requested that the superintendent videotape all of the ethnic studies classes in his district “in their entirety.”

A failure to tape the shows, according to Horne, would constitute evidence of a conspiracy to hide evidence that the courses violated the new repugnant law. Why any government would want to institutionalize a wilful ignorance of anything deemed ‘ethnic’ is a question to mull over. Nevermind that the US is a nation of immigrants – of ethnicities.

The law does raise the interesting question whether a course designed for a particular ethnic group and hence illegal would include a white-washed version of American history?

The value of quality early education demonstrated again in Tennessee study

Another in a distinguished line of studies has shown that quality early education reaps significant economic rewards over the period of a student’s lifetime. The study conducted by a research team from Harvard, Cal-Berkeley and Northwestern examined the effect of smaller class size and teacher quality in kindergarten on the earnings and other key outcomes of people in their late-20s who had been part of Tennessee’s STAR education experiment in the 1980s.

STAR involved almost 12 000 students in Tennessee who were randomly assigned to kindergarten classes of small (13-17) or large (22-25) size. The researchers examined the effect of differences in class size, teacher experience and classroom quality in the kindergarten experiment on the earnings of those students more than twenty years later. They have found that smaller class sizes, more experienced teachers and modestly better quality teachers boosted earnings by at least $1000 (in current dollars) per year at age 27.

The random assignment of students in the STAR experiment enabled the research team to calculate that the very best kindergarten teachers, those who can raise average boys and girls in kindergarten to the 85th achievement percentile, boosted present annual earnings of those students by almost 15%. In a small class, such a teacher would be worth well over a combined $300 000 per year for the entire class, and much more if the teacher had years of experience behind him or her.

The findings are stunning. Critics of early education benefits have tended to point at the so-called fade out phenomenon, where the benefits of quality early education don’t appear to have an effect on test scores in later years. The focus on test scores and the absence of a critical examination of the role of the (poor) quality of schooling after early education years are but two problems that dog that line of thinking.

The multi-university team’s findings confirm the results found by James Heckman, Art Reynolds and others on the significant positive effects of quality early education on life after school. This is, of course, the real test of an educations’ worth, not test scores.

The researchers controlled for important demographic factors, including parental income and marital status, parental age at birth, parental savings, student gender, race and whether they qualified for a free lunch, and in other key findings showed that quality early education in a small class resulted in a higher likelihood of college attendance, better quality college attendance, owning a home and being married.

Clearly, a critical key to economic development is to maximize human potential. The message of this study repeats a key point, start quality education early because early learning enables greater skill acquisition throughout a lifetime.

A major policy challenge is to adequately fund early childhood education. Given the large and positive return on investment, lawmakers should be persuaded that even in the toughest of budget times, early childhood should be a high priority. A second challenge is to find and train high quality teachers. Ultimately this is a question of increasing the pay of the teaching profession so it attracts better talent, and then showing a commitment at the legislative and administrative level to professional development. As this study shows, this would be money well spent.

Murky Air resolution defeated in Senate

This just in – the resolution sponsored by Sen Murkowski (R-Alaska) to reject the EPA finding that greenhouse gases are pollutants and therefore fall under the eye of the Clean Air Act, a resolution that would have forever curbed the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the CAA, was defeated today 53 votes to 47. Senator Kay Hagan voted against the resolution, Sen Burr was in the affirmative.

The issue is far from dead. House members are threatening their own initiatives to curb EPA authority and Sen Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) will very likely introduce a new Senate resolution for a two-year ban on EPA action on greenhouse gases.

It would appear that the EPA authority issue won’t be resolved unless an energy bill that addresses the issue of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions comes to the Senate floor. Today’s vote suggests that the likelihood of such a Senate bill coming to a vote is somewhat more likely. The House passed a cap and trade bill last year.

More Highway Trust Fund money bound for Mobility Fund

A successful amendment offered by Representative Nelson Cole yesterday in House Appropriations means the Mobility fund will get additional revenues in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 onwards from the Highway Trust Fund provided the Senate concurs in budget negotiations between the two chambers.

Under the amendment, some $31 million of the transfer from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund will go to the Mobility Fund in 2011-2012, and $45 million is re-routed in 2012-13 and annually thereafter. The money must be used to fund phase 2 of the Yadkin River Bridge project – a highway widening project north of the Yadkin – before it can be used for other projects.

Before the change, the unused $39 million bound for the Turnpike Authority in 2009-10 for gap funding for the mid-Carrituck Bridge and the Monroe Connector/Bypass were the only dollars earmarked for the Mobility Fund – money that also must be used for phase 2 of the Yadkin River bridge project. The Turnpike projects weren’t shovel-ready this year and it is plausible that the money for them will continue to be re-routed in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 if they become further delayed. That will require further action from the legislature, however.

Money issues weren’t the only changes made to the Mobility Fund yesterday. Representative Cole’s amendment also included language that directed the Department of Transportation to give:

[P]referential consideration to projects qualified to receive state grants from the Congestion Relief and Intermodal Transportation 21st Century Fund

This is a promising development in transportation policy and means that money from the Mobility Fund will be preferred for rail, including commuter and short-line rail, and rail facilities in the short-term. A capped percentage of the Intermodal Fund may be used for freight and passenger rail projects.

It does raise some questions, however, as to the fate of the Congestion Relief and Intermodal Transportation 21st Century Fund. The Intermodal Fund is primarily designed to be the state match for local dollars being spent by counties and regional transportation authorities developing public transportation projects. That local money comes via a local sales tax authorized by local referendum.

There are no local sales tax votes scheduled this year, although 2011 may see a few appear on local ballots meaning there may be applications to draw from the Intermodal Fund by 2013 or 2014.

It is therefore preferable that the Intermodal Fund obtains a dedicated stream of funding sooner rather than later. No doubt those lobbying for strategic highway projects share a similar sentiment. For them, sharing dollars with preferred rail and public transportation projects in the Mobility Fund is not ideal. The stage may be set for a push on all fronts in the 2011 and 2012 sessions – from highway, rail and public transportation advocates alike – for dedicated streams for both the Mobility and Intermodal Funds.

Representative Grier Martin also offered a welcome and successful amendment yesterday that directed the Department of Transportation to consult with stakeholders such as planning organisations and local governments when developing the selection criteria and process.