Hard times are here for schools

 Public schools will have to learn how to do more with less, concludes an Education Next analysis.

In California and Washington, bad budget cutting has already begun. Governors in these two states have acquiesced to employee demands and have protected educator jobs at the expense of students’ time to learn.

 Inflation-adjusted per-pupil school spending has increased over the last century by, on average, 2.3 percent per year,” write James Guthrie and Elizabeth Ettema. As a result, the U.S. spends more per pupil than every country except Switzerland. Most of the spending increases have gone to hiring more school employees.

School productivity — brains for the buck — “has declined dramatically.”

While waiting for technology to extend teachers’ effectiveness — which could be a long wait — schools need to stop wasting money, they write. 

States and districts can discontinue costly practices that have not been shown to enhance student achievement, including paying educators for out-of-field master’s degrees and salary premiums for experience; following “last in, first out” personnel provisions; relying on regular classroom instructional aides; and adhering to mandated limits on class size. Regulations that mandate inefficiency, such as legislatively precluding outsourcing, requiring intergovernmental grants to “supplement not supplant” existing spending, and prohibiting end-of-budget year surplus carryover, can also be revised to encourage smarter spending.

. . . states and districts can adopt strategies that foster efficiency at both the school and district level, such as adopting “activity-based cost” (ABC) accounting; empowering principals as school-level CEOs; adopting performance-based dollar distribution formulas and school-level financial budgeting; centralizing health insurance at the state level; and outsourcing operational services where proven to save money.

Fiscal austerity is the new normal, they conclude.

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