Author Archives: Max Marchitello and Alex Spurrier

Misinformation About California’s Special Education Systems and Enrollment Trends Won’t Help the Fiscal Crisis

Many California school districts are in financial trouble. Teacher pensions consume an increasing share of K-12 spending, and inflexible collective bargaining agreements and declining enrollments stretch district budgets.

In this strained financial environment, some of the complexity of California’s school finance system is lost, leading to simplified analyses and incomplete solutions. Addressing the financial shortfall requires a comprehensive understanding of the many different ways funding works in the state.

cover of Bellwether report cover of Bellwether report

 

 

 

 

 

 

To that end, we released new issue briefs yesterday that provide needed context and clarity on important issues in the state: special education financing and school enrollment trends and facilities. These issues have become part of the financial policy debate, but there are misunderstandings that unnecessarily fan the flames of tension between traditional and charter schools. For example, misleading analyses of enrollment trends and their impact on district finances make it more difficult to accurately assess facilities needs for districts and charter schools. And, since charter schools often enroll fewer students with disabilities, many can mistakenly believe that they are not contributing their share to special education.

But this isn’t quite right. Our hope is that a sober examination of these systems will point to reforms that can help schools of all types better serve students.

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Media: “To Promote Teacher Diversity, Ed Schools Must Look Beyond GPA & Test Scores. Here’s How Howard University Does it” in The 74 Million

Despite the urgent need to diversify the educator workforce, schools of education often struggle to recruit and graduate teachers of color. Part of the problem is that these schools tend to overvalue traditional metrics, such as grade point average (GPA) and performance on standardized tests like the SAT. In general, these measures are not strong indicators of who will be successful in the classroom or who will be a high-quality teacher. Moreover, setting minimum GPA and SAT scores for admissions can block many potential teachers of color.

Dr. Lisa Grillo, an Associate Professor at Howard University, and I wrote about this in The 74 Million:

Candidates’ GPAs, SAT scores and similar measures often are markers solely of the quality of their K-12 education and socioeconomic status. Indeed, they are themselves artifacts of a historically unjust and inequitable society. These seemingly objective measures are actually not that objective at all.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Howard University, for example, approaches teacher candidate section more comprehensively:

Candidates submit a detailed statement of interest that allows faculty to understand the compatibility between their desire for seeking the teaching degree at Howard and the social-justice orientation of the university’s programs. A panel interview then provides candidates with the opportunity to express themselves orally. Conversations between candidates and faculty provide valuable insight into candidates’ motivations, commitment, family background and educational experiences. They also allow faculty to establish personal connections with them before admitted. Faculty also solicit specific input from candidates’ academic advisers — from another school or college within the university — regarding their dispositions. Advisers are asked to reflect upon candidates’ integrity, emotional stability, promise toward professional growth and interest in teaching.

Read our full piece here.

Women Are Running for President But Gender Gaps in Education Remain

Over the weekend Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) officially announced their bids for the White House in 2020. They join previously announced Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard to comprise the largest pool of female candidates for president in history. And the election is still more than 20 months away.

While women are making significant strides in the political arena, gender equity in the world of education remains elusive, even though it’s a field dominated by women.

For starters, regardless of how you measure it, women in K-12 education earn 92 percent of what men earn for the same work. And even that isn’t the full story. As I demonstrated in a report last year, state teacher pension systems amplify gender-based salary inequities. It is alarming that gender-based pay gaps exist in spite of district-wide salary schedules that should, at least in theory, inoculate teaching from these kinds of inequities.

Read the full report here to learn more about how women earn less retirement benefits.

New Report: Benefit Spending Consumes Growing Share of Education Budgets

The recent teacher strikes in Arizona, Colorado, and West Virginia highlight a common problem: education spending is stagnant or in some cases decreasing. If teachers working multiple jobs to make ends meet isn’t bad enough, here’s worse news: skyrocketing benefit costs, such as healthcare and pensions, are consuming an increasing share of K-12 education budgets.

In a new report, “Benefits Take Larger Bite out of District K-12 Budgets,” I analyzed district education and benefit spending from 2005 to 2014. The results are troubling. Over that ten-year span, benefit spending increased more than 22 percent nationally. K-12 spending, on the other hand, grew less than 2 percent. As a result, more than $11 billion fewer dollars made it to classrooms in 2014 compared with 2005, after adjusting for inflation.

The problem of rising benefit costs varies significantly by state. As shown in the graph below, in the vast majority of states, benefit spending grew far faster than education budgets overall. In North Carolina, for example, benefits grew 48 percent while the state’s education spending only increased 2 percent. The problem persists even in states like Michigan that cut both K-12 and benefit spending, because they weren’t cut at the same rate. The Wolverine State cut education spending by 19 percent, but benefits were cut by only 2 percent. As a result, benefits eat up an even greater share of Michigan’s education budget than they did previously.

via “Benefits Take Larger Bite out of District K-12 Budgets”

Barring a dramatic change, the problem of ballooning benefit spending will only get worse. Due to many states’ histories of underfunding their pension systems while simultaneously increasing the generosity of the plan, costs will continue to rise. Legislators will need to find politically viable solutions that both meet existing obligations and mitigate rising costs going forward.

Read my full report here.

Pay Gaps in Education are Bad. Pensions Make Them Worse.

Education, as a field, isn’t supposed to have pay gaps. In the vast majority of school districts, salaries are determined by uniform salary schedules based on educators’ years of experience and educational attainment. This policy should, at least in theory, guard against gender- or race-based salary inequities.

Sadly, pay gaps persist. In a new report, we studied Illinois’ educator data and found that women, regardless of experience level, earn markedly lower salaries than their male peers. As shown in the graph below, gender-based salary gaps begin in educators’ first year and increase until an educator reaches her 30th year of service.

As we show in the paper, these gaps also persist into retirement. For example, a teacher first becomes eligible for a pension after working for ten years in Illinois. At that point in their career, women’s average salary is $8,000 less than their male colleagues. This salary gap translates in a $2,100 disparity in annual pension benefits. And that pension inequity continues to grow each year. After working 30 years, a common retirement age, male educators get an average pension that is $8,000 more valuable than the average pension women receive. That is $8,000 less per year. After 10 years in retirement, men will have amassed an additional $80,000 in retirement benefits.

In short, salary schedules fail to sufficiently guard the education field against large and persistent gaps in salary and retirement benefits.

To learn more about gender-and race-based inequities in salaries and pensions, read the full report, here.