$11,540 per student in 2009-2010: Are we getting our money’s worth?

According to the National Education Association, the national teachers union, Oregon spent an average of $10,476 per enrolled student in the 2009-2010 school year. Add in reported debt service spending, and that figure leaps even higher to $11,540 per student.

Are we getting our money’s worth? Nationwide, spending has more than doubled since 1970, but improved outcomes have not followed. While fourth and eighth graders are doing slightly better on the nation’s most stable educational measurement―the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)―any early gains are lost by the time they reach the finish line: 17-year-old students have not improved since the U.S. Department of Education first started measuring their math and reading performance in the 1970s.

Likewise, international evidence confirms that spending is a poor predictor of educational outcomes. While the U.S. is among the top spenders for education, we place in the middle of the pack of developed nations for performance.

Decade after decade, our leaders promise better outcomes if we just spend more and incorporate “better oversight” and “increased accountability.” It hasn’t worked. It’s time we turn the system on its head and empower teachers and administrators at the ground level to use their talents―and parents and students to find the educational program that will best help them thrive.

 

 

 

Arizona’s Empowering Education Savings Accounts: An Example for Oregon

Leading by example, Arizona’s government recently passed a bill creating Arizona Empowerment Accounts. Under the new program, if a child with special needs leaves his or her traditional public school, a portion of the state funding that would have gone toward educating that student will go into an education savings account for that student. The money then can pay for other educational options: private school tuition, online courses, tutoring or homeschool curriculum. The money left when the child finishes high school can be used for college within four years of high school graduation.

This program harnesses the benefits of both vouchers and savings accounts. Vouchers have been shown by gold standard social science studies to improve educational outcomes for students who receive vouchers and even for those who remain behind in regular public schools. Nine out of the ten random assignment empirical studies found that vouchers improve student outcomes; one found no impact. 19 out of 18 studies found that vouchers positively impacted regular public schools; only one found no impact.

Vouchers help give kids the intellectual background to better succeed in life, while the savings function of the program will also likely increase students’ financial ability to attend college. Research has shown that having economic assets substantially increases kids’ educational outcomes and likelihood to attend college. Of children who expect to one day graduate from a four-year college, those with savings accounts are six times more likely to attend college by the time they are 23.

Educational savings accounts will empower families to choose the type of education that will best serve their kids, leading to better outcomes for students. Oregon’s legislators should take note and bring such great opportunities to our state.

Why This Mom Is Speaking out Against the PPS $548 Million Bond Measure

We’ve heard the Portland Public School District propaganda machine and the bureaucratic sound bytes about how the so-called school modernization bond will begin the important process of updating Portland schools, bring jobs to the community, increase student achievement, attract young families to the District, and on and on….

But what we don’t hear is a logical, compassionate response to the fact that this bond will tax people out of their homes. I’ve raised this issue many times and given the District plenty of opportunity to respond, but all I get is…crickets….

Could it be because they don’t want to recognize the striking disconnect between their establishment and the financial realities of most in their community?

I’ll let you decide the answer to that, but one thing is clear: It’s time they heard the voice of the taxpayers footing this bill.

I have received criticism from Portland bureaucrats that I couldn’t possibly understand what this means for the school district since, after all, I live in Wilsonville, I have a construction bond in my district, and our schools are being taken care of.

Here’s my response: It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how a monumental tax increase will affect a community, especially in a recession. And, I don’t have to live in the District in order to pick up the phone, listen to heart-wrenching stories from folks on fixed incomes or barely scraping by, understand that this bond measure will put them on the streets, and become enraged at the audacity of the Portland Public School district for putting a “utopian” measure on the ballot with no regard for our economic condition.

I am an advocate for taxpayers statewide, and I will continue to speak out as long as the District remains deaf to the financial reality of its residents.

Since PPS likes to point out that I enjoy a school construction bond already in my district, I’d like to point out the consequences of that. Wilsonville is one of the highest property-taxed areas in Oregon, and when I receive my tax bill every year, it’s like swallowing a jagged horse pill. In fact, my mortgage payment was increased by $300/month at the start of this year to cover my bloated property taxes, which was devastating to my household budget.

Sound like something Portlanders want to take on? I think not.

Not when Portland is still suffering from the grips of economic recession, not when unemployment remains above 10 percent, not when homeowners are barely able to cover basic expenses, not when renters are in no position to deal with rent increases, not when foreclosures are still on the rise and this bond may add 1,000 homes to that list, not when this bond will cost the community 5,000 jobs due to the drastic decrease in disposable income, not when bricks and mortar will do absolutely nothing to increase the atrocious graduation rates within the district (average 53%), and not when the major supporters of the bond measure are the ones who stand to have their pockets lined at our expense.

This is a teachable moment for taxpayers. A time to push back against excess and to demand a more reasonable, financially viable option. The District needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a proposal that only focuses on the basic, critical structural needs of our schools.

PPS needs to heed the warning that this is no time for “wish list items.” Save those for after the economic recovery.


Lindsay Berschauer is a former Washington state construction company owner. Now an Oregon resident, she is speaking out against the School Modernization Bond Measure as a private citizen. Lindsay recently worked with Cascade Policy Institute as a research associate and now works for Third Century Solutions on the Oregon Transformation Project, which brings to Oregon citizens information and opportunities to bring about lasting budget and regulatory reforms that will ensure a robust and growing private sector. Berschauer’s son will be entering the public school system next year.

Additional Graduation Requirement Misses the Point

Last week, Oregon’s state House passed a bill that would require students to apply for post-secondary education, the military, or an apprenticeship or to attend an informational session on a training program in order to receive their high school diploma. Bill supporters argue that this could increase the number of kids who enroll in higher education.

Yet, there is no evidence that such a program will increase enrollment in higher education. Already, 70% of U.S. students enroll in college within two years of high school graduation. But around 30% of students drop out, and many more fail to graduate on time according to the NCES, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. One major cause is that students are commonly unprepared for college-level work.

Around 40 percent of Oregon’s community college freshman enroll in remedial courses. And surveys by the NCES have found that about 1 in 4 freshmen in 4-year public universities enroll in remedial courses. Students who take remedial courses are far more likely to drop out of college. Yet startlingly, in a 2008 survey only 14% of such students thought their high school coursework had been difficult.

Rather than heap more top-heavy mandates on schools and students, the legislature would be wise to free schools to do what they are supposed to do: educate kids. And rather than manipulate children to apply for post-secondary education or the military, the legislature should empower kids to seek out and choose a high school education that will challenge them and prepare them for life.

Is Kitzhaber’s Oregon Investment Board a Good Investment in Kids’ Education?

Governor Kitzhaber is seeking to consolidate power over education. Early childhood, K-12 and post-secondary education would be overseen by a single board, the Oregon Investment Board.

Surprisingly, most of the education establishment approves of these changes, saying they will improve things at the ground level. Yet, how would shifting power upward improve educational outcomes for children at the bottom? For decades, we have tried that as the state and federal governments have gotten increasingly involved in our neighborhoods’ classrooms. Likewise, consolidating school districts to find savings and improve outcomes has not borne fruit.

But empowering individuals at the bottom – kids and parents – has made a world of difference to those on the ground level. Likewise, it has freed teachers to use their talents and passion to innovate at the classroom level. Choice programs like charter schools, vouchers and K-12 education tax credits have improved outcomes for kids, saved money and made parents happier in places like Milwaukie, Florida and Washington, D.C. Oregon parents, too, see the value of choice as waiting lists at local charter schools persist even as charter schools grow.

This issue boils down to your belief in freedom and governance. Do you believe a handful of elite individuals can determine best how to meet your children’s needs? Or do you believe that you know your children’s needs better than a distant group of bureaucrats?

Who know public schools best?

Test scores are one way to judge our public schools. But no one likely knows the condition and quality of public schools better than the teachers who work in them every day. Whether these teachers send their own children to public schools more or less frequently than their neighbors may thus be a strong indicator of how good our schools really are.

Now, an analysis of the 2000 U.S. Census Long Form data gives us this answer.* That year, 17.5 percent of all families in the nation’s fifty largest cities sent their kids to private schools, while 21.5 percent of public school teachers did the same.

In the Portland Metropolitan area the disparity was greater.** Here, only 12.7 percent of all families sent their kids to private schools, but 20 percent of public school teachers apparently decided that their children deserved a better school than their districts offered. Doing some basic grade school math shows us that, on average, teachers in the largest cities are 23 percent more likely to send their children to private schools, but inPortland, they are 57 percent more likely to do so.

Those who know our schools best are exercising school choice the most. They know that some schools are better than others. Offering all families comprehensive school choice is long overdue.


* Denis P. Doyle, Brian Diepold and David A. DeSchryver, “Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?”, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, September 7, 2004,
http://www.edexcellencemedia.net/publications/2004/200409_wheredopublic/Fwd-1.1.pdf
 
** The Portland Metropolitan area is officially known as the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Approximately 80% of its population is in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia and Yamhill counties in Oregon; the remainder is in Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. About one-third of the cities in the study, including Portland, included nearby suburban areas. Since private school enrollment is generally higher in urban areas, the urban-suburban area results in the study are likely somewhat smaller than if the researchers had been able to find urban-only data for those cities, again, including Portland.

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