Funding ‘phantom students’

Many states fund phantom students, sucking up education dollars and reducing districts’ incentive to improve productivity, according to an Education Next article by Marguerite Roza, who runs the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown and Jon Fullerton, executive director of Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research.

Declining enrollment — especially if it’s caused by charter competition — is a primary cause of phantom funding. The students are gone, but the dollars remain.

During charter negotiations, many states promised school districts they’d be protected financially if students left for charter schools. “Double funding” can be costly.

In Connecticut, districts receive revenues based on the enrollments of students living in their region, regardless of whether those students attend the district schools or attend charters (or technical schools).

. . . In Massachusetts, charter school students take with them the per-pupil net school spending (state and local) from their sending districts. To soften the blow to sending-district finances, Massachusetts provides a partial tuition reimbursement for up to six years after the district starts paying charter school tuition. When a district incurs new tuition costs, the state reimburses the district for 100 percent of the cost in the first year and 25 percent of the tuition cost for the next five years. Thus, the state essentially provides districts with 225 percent of a year’s tuition for each full-time equivalent student lost!

There’s little “incentive to improve services in an effort to retain more students,” they conclude. “When students leave a district to attend a charter school, the district may see an increase in per-student revenues.”

Some states also subsidize small districts. California is very generous to small districts, undercutting any incentive to merge for greater efficiency.

Michigan city outsources all its schools

One of Michigan’s lowest performing — and highest spending — school districting is turning over its three schools with nearly 1,000 students to a for-profit charter company, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In Highland Park School District, adjacent to Detroit, “only 22 percent of third graders passed state reading exams last school year and just 10 percent passed math,”  reports the Journal. Only 10 percent of high school students were proficient in reading and none in math. Phoenix-based Leona Group will run all three schools.

Highland Park decided to privatize its schools after years of enrollment decline, poor fiscal stewardship and allegations that a board member stole more than $125,000 by submitting false invoices; the charges against the member are pending.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the district spent $16,508 per student. By comparison, Michigan districts on average spent $9,202 per pupil that year. In the process, Highland Park ran up an $11.3 million deficit over its $18.9 million school budget.

Joyce Parker, appointed emergency district manager by Gov. Rick Snyder, ruled out merging Highland Park with a nearby district. “The financial problems were immense and we had to look at nontraditional ways to get the district back on track,” said Parker.

Under Leona’s management, the schools will receive $7,110 per pupil in state funding and an undetermined amount of federal funds for low-income and special education students.

Under the state emergency law, all the district’s professional staff has been laid off.  Teachers can apply for jobs with Leona, but the company “has budgeted about $36,000 a year for Highland Park teachers on average . . . compared with almost $65,000 a year the teachers received in the 2010-11 school year, reports the Journal.

So Leona will have much less money per student, inexperienced teachers and students who are way, way behind academically. It doesn’t look promising.


Public schools woo foreign students

With enrollment and revenues declining, public high schools are recruiting tuition-paying foreign students, reports AP.  Most foreign students come from China, perfect their English and apply to U.S. universities.

In Millinocket, Maine, Superintendent Ken Smith is seeking 60 or more Chinese students — each paying $13,000 in tuition and another $11,000 for room and board — to fill empty classes at Stearns High School. Stearns once enrolled nearly 700 students; this year, there were less than 200.

Local students will benefit by being exposed to those from abroad, and Chinese students will gain from being immersed in the local culture, he said.

Students in Shanghai, Beijing and Fuzhou “didn’t know where Maine was, but they knew where Harvard was,” Smith said. “They all want to go to Harvard.”

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia and Washington schools are recruiting overseas, AP reports.

In remote Newcomb, N.Y., the high school this year took in nine international students — three from Russia, two from France, two from Vietnam, and one from Korea — who pay $3,500 each for tuition and another $3,500 to live with a host family. The school is bringing in foreign students not just for revenue, but also to keep its numbers up — it has only 34 students this year — and expose its students to other cultures, said Principal Skip Hults.

“We felt like our high school was becoming too small, both socially and academically,” Hults said.

Lei Huang, 16, from Shanghai, is attending Camden Hills high school in Rockport, Maine.

Schools in China, he said, demand long days in the classroom and long nights doing homework, with an emphasis on memorization and testing. In Camden, he appreciates the emphasis on creativity and tapping into students’ interests.

Outside of school, he likes being able to drink water out of the tap, the abundance of trees and time to participate on the high school ski team.

Foreign students can attend public schools for only one year because of visa regulations. Lei plans to attend a private school next year. He hopes to go on to MIT.

Poor examples

To argue for $10 billion in education aid, President Obama brought two laid-off teachers to the White House. Both Shannon Lewis, a special education teacher in West Virginia, and Rachel Martin, an Illinois kindergarten teacher, were laid off because of declining enrollment, not funding cuts.

Martin is an “excellent, excellent” teacher who was laid off because enrollments had dropped and she was lowest in seniority, said Matteson School District 162 Superintendent Blondean Davis. Davis offered Martin her old job back the day after she returned from Washington, saying enrollment is back up.

Lewis was laid off by her own mother, who’s the county superintendent, because there are fewer students in the district.

West Virginia has not been forced to lay off  or furlough any teachers or other state employees, reports the Charleston Daily Mail.  Last year, West Virginia cut state education funding, filled the gap with federal dollars and used the savings for other government needs. That’s likely to happen again this year.

There must be two teachers in this country who were laid off because of funding cuts. I know California’s got plenty. You’d think Obama’s people could have found them.

Milwaukee seeks millions for . . . ?

Milwaukee Public Schools could get $88.6 million in construction funds under the stimulus bill — “even though the district has 15 vacant school buildings, a large surplus of property and no plans for new construction,” reports the Journal-Sentinel.

Enrollment is declining every year, and the last major wave of construction in MPS – the $102 million Neighborhood School Initiative launched in 2000 – resulted in projects that are underused, have not met enrollment projections or have closed. A series in the Journal Sentinel in August detailed how tens of millions of dollars in construction spending did not produce the expected results, and the project as a whole has not led to a higher percentage of students attending neighborhood schools.

In general, MPS facilities have been described by school officials as being in good to better-than-good condition.

Hasty public investment often is wasted, writes economist Greg Mankiw.

Universities bid for students

State universities with declining enrollment, such as Southern Illinois, are offering in-state tuition to out-of-state students and other discounts, reports USA Today.

Across the country, a bidding war of sorts has developed over prospective students seeking bargains in a bad economy. While some universities have long tried to lure students across state lines with lower tuitions, such incentives are gaining popularity as the nation’s financial meltdown has withered families’ college savings and home equity to help pay soaring education costs.

Why should Illinois taxpayers subsidize tuition for Missouri and Indiana residents?