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Media: “The L.A. District May Owe $13.6 Billion for Health Care & Pensions — and the Strike Made Things Worse. Obamacare Is a Way Out” in The 74

The recent teacher strike in Los Angeles was mainly over policy issues like charter schools, class sizes, and other school support staff. But the agreement largely punted on lingering financial questions like what to do about the school district’s $13.6 billion unfunded obligation for retiree health benefits.

In The 74, I argue that the district should look to the Obamacare markets as one way to focus their spending on the workers who need it the most:

This is where the federal Affordable Care Act comes in. Obamacare provides subsidies on a sliding scale to individuals to purchase health insurance, regardless of age; in 2018, a two-member household earning less than $65,840, or 400 percent of the federal poverty level, would qualify for assistance. If we assume that retirees have no income sources other than their pension (teachers in California do not have Social Security), publicly available data suggest that 87 percent of LAUSD retirees could qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

As I note in the piece, there is some precedence for this. In the 1980s, LAUSD began requiring retirees over age 65 to apply for Medicare benefits, making the district benefits more of a perk than a standalone offering. Districts like LAUSD could now do the same thing with the Obamacare markets and retirees under age 65.

Best of Bellwether 2018: Our Most-Read Publications and Posts

Below are the most-read posts from Ahead of the Heard and our most-read publications in 2018! (To read the top posts from our sister site TeacherPensions.org, click here.)

Top Ten Blog Posts from Ahead of the Heard in 2018

1.) Moving Away from Magical Thinking: Understanding the Current State of Pre-K Research
Marnie Kaplan

2.) What I Learned About Retaining Teachers From Having Done It Badly as a New Principal
Tresha Ward

3.) Three Questions About the Bezos Day One Fund
Ashley LiBetti

4.) Two Graphs on Teacher Turnover Rates
Chad Aldeman Continue reading

Welcoming our Fall 2018 interns!

Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program provides skill- and knowledge-building opportunities to students and professionals developing their careers in education policy and program evaluation. Interns work on substantive projects matched to their skills and interests and are treated as core members of our team.

This fall, we’re happy to have Truc Vo and Armand Demirchyan joining us through the end of the year! Read their bios below, and stay tuned for blogging and research from these two.

Truc Voheadshot of Truc Vo

Background: Truc Vo is an intern with Bellwether Education Partners in the Policy and Thought Leadership team. Truc received her master’s of public policy degree and bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia (UVA). During her time at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, she further explored her interest in education policy through taking cross-listed classes with the Curry School of Education. For her master’s capstone project, Truc explored ways to increase racial diversity in Teach For America’s teacher corps.

Why I do this work: Growing up Vietnamese American, my family always emphasized the importance and value of education. My educational upbringing was very privileged, growing up in the well-resourced Fairfax County Public Schools and having college-educated parents. However, I know my public school experience was very different from many other minority students, especially other Southeast Asian students, and I want to help all students have equal access and opportunities.

Contacthttps://www.linkedin.com/in/thanh-truc-vo-40ab7013b

Armand Demirchyanheadshot of Armand Demirchyan

Background: Armand Demirchyan is a Policy and Thought Leadership Intern at Bellwether Education Partners, where he has conducted research on race, housing, and education. After college, he served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners in his hometown of Los Angeles,  working on literacy intervention with elementary students. Armand is currently pursuing his master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and holds dual degrees in Quantitative Economics and African-American Studies from the University of California, Irvine.

Why I do this work: After graduating college, I served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners Los Angeles. My experience gave me a deeper understanding of the inequities at play for low-income and low-resourced schools. However, I believe that with the right amount of support and investment, strong public education has the power to transform lives.

To learn more about Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program or to apply for a future semester, click here.

Straight Talk for City Leaders on Unified Enrollment: A Q&A with Shannon Fitzgerald

In many cities across the country, school application and enrollment processes are built like high-stakes obstacle courses, where families with the most time and resources at their disposal tend to come out on top. A unified enrollment system is one way that cities with broad school choice have tried to level the playing field, and make enrollment processes less burdensome and more equitable for families. In cities like D.C., Denver, and New Orleans that have unified enrollment systems, families submit a single application and rank the charter and district schools of their choice. Then each student is matched to a single school via an enrollment algorithm.

These systems can decrease inequities by making enrollment processes for families easier to accomplish and harder to “game,” maximizing students’ likelihood of getting into their top choice schools. Unified enrollment can also decrease budget instability for schools caused by unexpected enrollment changes in the beginning of the year. For city leaders, data from unified enrollment systems can reveal important lessons about family demand for specific schools or programs. But that does not mean there are no risks, speed bumps, or potential problems. There is a lot that has to happen behind the scenes to create an enrollment system that meets families’ needs and avoids unintended consequences.

Shannon Fitzgerald knows what it takes to implement a lasting unified enrollment system. She was one of the first in the country to do it as the Director of Choice and Enrollment for Denver Public Schools from 2008-2013. Now, as an enrollment systems consultant, she works with other cities and districts who are interested in reforming their enrollment systems. I talked with her recently about the lessons she’s learned along the way and her advice for city leaders.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you define a unified enrollment system? What differentiates unified enrollment from other enrollment approaches?

I think about enrollment systems as a spectrum. On one end, you have “wild west” systems. Nothing is coordinated: families have to go all over the place and apply to each school individually, and there are different deadlines. You have students enrolled in multiple schools — who knows where they will show up in September? On the other end, you have truly unified enrollment systems like Denver, Indianapolis, and New Orleans. They include all public schools in the city, district and charter; they have common tools, a common timeline, and a common application; and every student gets matched to a single school of their choice. In between those two ends of the spectrum are about 50,000 different variations.

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Expand Your Ed Policy Toolkit with Human-Centered Design

Design Methods for Education Policy Website

Design Methods for Education Policy Website

In February, I released a white paper making the case that policy professionals can create better education policies by using human-centered research methods because these methods are informed by the people whose lives will be most affected.

Yesterday, we released a companion website (https://designforedpolicy.org/) that curates 54 human-centered research methods well-suited to education policy into one easy-to-navigate resource. We took methods from organizations like IDEO, Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, and Nesta and organized them by the phases of a typical education policy project. We included brief explanations of how each method might be applied to your current work.

To be sure, you probably already use some human-centered design methods in your work, even if you don’t think of them that way. Interviews and observations are commonplace and provide highly valuable information. What the design world brings is a mindset that explicitly and deeply values the lived experiences of the people who are most impacted by problems and an array of methods to capture and analyze that information. It also adds a heavy dose of creativity to the process of identifying solutions. And despite a common misconception, when done well, human-centered design methods are very rigorous, fact-based, and structured to root out assumptions and biases.

When combined, common policy analysis methods and human-centered design methods can result in a powerful mix of quantitative and qualitative, deductive and inductive, macro and micro, rational and emotional elements. Continue reading