Tag Archives: #COVIDandschools

ICYMI: Is There or Isn’t There a Looming Fiscal Cliff for Education?

Throughout the past month, Bellwether has weighed in on the financial health of schools in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with different reactions, resources, and recommendations from across our team. In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap: 

You can read all the posts in the series here, and we welcome your reactions! Thanks for following along.

An Underused Path for Rescuing Early Care Providers

This is our latest post in “The Looming Financial Crisis?” series. Read the rest here.

Even in the best of times, the community-based organizations, nonprofits, and schools that run early childhood programs in this country operate on extremely thin margins.

Because of COVID-19, they’re in crisis. Many are waiting desperately for families willing to sign up for in-person care or for the federal government to pass another stimulus bill. In a July survey, 40 percent of current early childhood providers said that without additional public assistance, they would close permanently. In that scenario, thousands of early educators would lose their primary source of income. The resulting loss would also have dire implications for parents and caregivers trying to go back to work — and for the economy. 

Outside of direct financial assistance, there’s another — and largely unexplored — route to help shore up the finances of existing early childhood providers and support the creation of new providers: state legislators should create flexibility from regulations that govern the facilities where early childhood operators can work.

Right now, for example, early childhood providers spend valuable money and limited staff time thinking about things like building individual “cubbies” within classrooms with individual hooks and ensuring an “adequate supply of blocks in varied sizes” that is “organized and labeled.” Facilities regulations can also prevent potential providers from ever opening. For example, in order to serve preschoolers, charter schools often must retrofit their existing classrooms to meet early childhood regulations, which can be a prohibitively expensive endeavor. 

There is no argument that children need safety, and that operators need to be compelled — through a combination of oversight, law, and agency guidance — to make the safest spaces for kids to play and learn. But states across the country have taken things a step too far, adding burdensome hoops that don’t actually do anything to ensure quality, safety, or rigor.

Loosening these regulations would ease the financial pressure on existing providers, allowing them to spend funds elsewhere, like on public health measures, staff salaries, or rent. Depending on the regulation, providers may even be able to reconfigure their existing space to enroll more students while still meeting COVID health and safety standards. And in the best case scenario, providers that have not previously offered child care due to facilities restrictions could begin to do so. 

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Considerations For Private Schools and Their Allies Amid Budget Cuts

This is our latest post in “The Looming Financial Crisis?” series. Read the rest here.

In August, I wrote for Education Next about how the pandemic was affecting private schools — especially those dedicated to serving high-need students — and the factors that can influence whether a school is able to pivot during uncertain and disruptive times. 

But as state budgets tighten, private schools that rely on vouchers or tax-credit scholarship programs to serve high-need students are not wholly in control of their own destiny. Rather, just as school responses have varied widely, policymaker responses will vary as well. 

After the 2008 recession, for instance, state school choice policies sometimes lost — and sometimes gained — significant funding. For example, funding for Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program dropped 20% after 2008 before rebounding a couple of years later. Meanwhile, funding for Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Parental Choice Program increased by 12%, and policymakers in the Sunshine State increased the ceiling on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program nearly 50%. 

There are limitations on what school choice proponents can predict in uncertain times. Here are three questions they should continue to revisit as the pandemic evolves this fall and new state legislatures prepare to convene in January:

What are the projections for your state’s economy?

The more constrained the resources, the harder it will be for policymakers to preserve and expand private school choice programs. First, it will be important to understand the state tax revenues that fund state voucher programs. State revenues often come from a combination of income and sales taxes, and, as Jennifer Schiess explained, these can be hard to predict. They could be less vulnerable to downturns, since the pandemic hit low-wage workers hardest and low-wage workers make up a smaller share of income tax revenue. Internet shopping could also offset declines in sales tax revenue from brick-and-mortar retail.  Continue reading

Preventing a “Lost Generation” of Community College Learners

This is our latest post in “The Looming Financial Crisis?” series. Read the rest here.

Monroe Community College Cafeteria, all seats at round tables empty, yellow overhead lighting

Photo by David Maiolo via Wikimedia

Community colleges have long served as an accessible and affordable post-secondary pathway to better jobs for high school graduates and adults looking to upskill. For example, the median weekly earnings for someone with an associate’s degree are 17% higher than for those with only a high school diploma or a GED. Community colleges are particularly important for traditionally underserved students: compared to students at four-year colleges, community college students are more likely to be the first in their families to attend college, to be from a low-income family, and to be members of racial or ethnic minority groups. 

This is one reason why the steep declines in community college enrollment this fall are especially troubling. According to newly released data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), undergraduate enrollments across the country are down 4.0 percent compared to the same time last year, with the biggest losses being at community colleges, where enrollments declined by 9.4 percent, on fall enrollments. 

Before the pandemic, there were approximately 5.5 million students enrolled in community college nationally. A 9.4 percent enrollment decrease equals about 520,000 students that have “stopped out” of community college, at least temporarily. This group of students is at risk of being a “lost generation” of learners. Dr. Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping community colleges become leaders in their communities, told The Well News: “The pandemic, if we are unable to find students we lost and keep students we serve, and open up new access points for new students, will result in a lost generation of learners that will hurt the economic and civic fabrics of the communities our colleges serve.” 

Why are more community college students “stopping out” of college relative to four-year students? We know from our work that, in aggregate, community college students often face more barriers on their road to completion. This excerpt from an April NEA Today article sheds some light:

Students who are first-generation, who are on financial aid, who face challenges around hunger, housing, transportation, and who are balancing work, childcare, and more, “they are all being adversely affected in ways that make those inequities more stark and more exacerbated,” says [Kurt Meyer, an English professor at Irvine Valley College in California and president of the South Orange County Community College District Faculty Association], who notes a five-fold increase in South Orange County college students recently applying for emergency funds to pay rent, fix cars, and more.

One major challenge is that many community colleges were struggling financially even before the pandemic and are likely to see further financial challenges as a result of the pandemic. Not only are many schools facing losses of income from reduced enrollment and unexpected refunds, but many are facing additional financial challenges caused by cuts in state funding. Lakeland Community College in Ohio, for example, will lose over $780,000 in state funding by the end of June 2020 and expects to lose over $4 million for the fiscal year ending in 2021. Similar cases can be found around the country, and many community colleges have been forced to furlough and lay off faculty and staff.

So, what can leaders do to ensure that we don’t lose a generation of students to COVID disruptions and increasingly tight financial constraints?  Continue reading

9 Considerations for Charter School Mergers in an Era of Limited Budgets

Since March, school funding experts have sought to understand how the economic turmoil coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic would affect school revenue. Most analysts agree that the impact will be significant and will be felt most by those who are the furthest from opportunity. Unfortunately, charter schools — which nationally enroll a student population that is 52 percent low-income, 25 percent Black, and 34 percent Hispanic — are particularly vulnerable to variations in state funding. 

Charter schools struggling with financial sustainability may consider whether the school’s mission might be better served by merging with another charter school. However, while charter school mergers can work, they are far from a simple solution and must be approached carefully.

As our colleagues Lina Bankert and Lauren Schwartze have previously written, a “merger” can take many shapes but, fundamentally, it involves joining together two or more organizations as one entity — through a formal legal agreement — in pursuit of a common goal. In the current financial climate, financial sustainability may be what prompts schools to explore a merger, but any merger conversation should start by defining all of the reasons why it could be a strategic move for each partner in the merger.

These nine considerations will help school leaders determine whether a merger might make sense for their school:

While a merger can support better financial efficiency in the long-term, financial efficiency is neither immediate nor guaranteed. If school leaders are pursuing a merger first and foremost because they believe it promises immediate financial benefits, they should stop and reconsider. A successful merger between two or more charter schools requires a short-term infusion of funding to support the merger process. To conduct due diligence, support internal decision making, plan implementation, and ensure a smooth transition period, school leaders will need financial resources for necessary staff time and legal expertise. Any long-term financial efficiencies will only occur after an initial up-front investment that can sometimes total hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

While a merger can increase financial strength by achieving a larger or more stable revenue base (via combined student enrollment) and by enabling some economies of scale, in practice the additional revenue is often used to support a high-quality school model, via investments to support rigorous and consistent instruction for the merged institution. As a result, a merger should not be thought of as a strategy for “saving money” per se, but instead as a way to combine resources to provide a high-quality education to more students, with the stronger financial footing that comes with that.   

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