Wednesday, September 12, 2007

CHECK THE FACTS: Selling adequacy, making millions

I finally got the chance to go to my first Croydon school board meeting. It was a real eye opener and I hope to attend more meetings on a regular basis from here on out.

A woman in the audience pointed out that her taxes went up from 300 dollars to when she first moved to Croydon to 3000 dollars the amount she is currently paying. Education spending in Croydon has out paced the rate of inflation without correlating improvement in student performance. Our goal over the next few months is to do some investigative reporting and report on said information here.

Along those lines we want to share with our readers a must read article regarding lawsuits bought on by organizations of which teachers belong. The following snippet appeared in the Hoover Institution's Education Next A Journal of Opinion and Research. The Sunapee School District is departing from SAU 43 this could mean bigger taxes for Croydon residents. In reality what should happen is the SAU should cut spending in proportion to the revenues lost by the departure of the Sunapee School District. On top of that we are facing income taxes as a result of adequacy lawsuits bought on by individuals that are to educate our children. It is really important for taxpayers and parents to become involved and try to reduce spending. If spending increases school employees will only have more power to continue to increase spending at rates far exceeding the rate of inflation meaning continually higher taxes in the future.

What Are States Paying For?

Cost estimates are an important component in the politics of court and legislative deliberations on schools. The adequacy debates are typically motivated by obvious and real shortfalls in the achievement of a state’s students, but a combination of naive concerned citizens and self-interested parties invariably pushes to translate these debates into a simple dollar figure. Such translation is salient for courts and legislatures and both simplifies and focuses the issue for the media.

What Picus and Odden provide in their reports is essentially a selective review of the published literature on program effects. Why do different states and organizations pay ever-increasing amounts to see this research review when Google would bring up the most recent version immediately and without expense? The answer is simple. Clients want a bottom-line statement about how much spending would provide an adequate education, and they want this cost estimate attached to their specific state. Few people care about the “studies” on which consultants base their reports, or even their validity, because nobody really expects schools to implement these specific programs if given extra funding. Clients simply want a requisite amount of scientific aura around the number that will become the rallying flag for political and legal actions.

Summing the added cost of the separate programs suggested by Picus and Odden, I estimate that the overall plan, if fully applied, would increase average spending in Washington by $1,760 to $2,760 per student, or 23 to 35 percent. This estimate of the increased spending necessary to achieve “adequacy” is very similar to the percentage increases they have recommended to other states, and numbers like these will presumably become part of the headlines surrounding the new court case.

But pity the poor states that actually implement the Picus and Odden plan. They are sure to be disappointed by the results, and most taxpayers (those who do not work for the schools) will be noticeably poorer.

Eric A. Hanushek is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a member of its Koret Task Force on K–12 Education.

To read the full article go to Hoover Institution's Education Next website.

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