As the Thompson School District “studies” how to get more cash from taxpayers, this might be a good time to remind the Loveland school district that more money does not equate to better education as Transparency Czarina Amy Oliver Cooke wrote in a 2009 guest editorial when her school district sought a $16 million mill levy override. Even with recent budget crunches, Americans have nearly doubled K-12 education spending since 1971 with little or no increase in achievement scores or graduation rates.
It’s not how much but rather how money is spent. And Loveland parents and taxpayers have every reason to be concerned about how Thompson spends their money. In early May, the Loveland newspaper reported that the district released every first-year teacher and second-year middle school and high school teacher regardless of effectiveness in order to save more expensive, tenured teachers.
By making the cut, the district will be able to place tenured teachers who might have been squeezed out of their schools because of student numbers or other reasons in classrooms elsewhere in the district.
In order to protect the status quo, the Thompson School Board heard from Doug Houston, whose area of expertise include ”public finance policy development, public issue elections, general obligation bonds, certificates of participation, municipal utilities” and more, with George K. Baum and Company.
[Houston] recommended that the board write an argument identifying the problem, solution, cost and urgency for a tax increase and conduct both a mail survey and a scientific phone poll to determine the level of support.
In other words, conduct a survey on whether or not the district can bully working families into giving up more money. What an unimaginative recommendation that deserves to go down in flames. The Fiscal Times recently reported:
Even though the growth of overall education spending slowed during the recession, with the largest cuts in Florida, Michigan and California, many high-cost school districts continue to ask states for funds to pour more money into the problem, hiring more staff and buying more equipment. Adding more money, however, does not appear to increase education quality or graduation rates.
In fact, additional spending corresponded to higher student achievement in only 16 states, according to the 2011 Return on Educational Investment study by the Center for American Progress. In five states, including Florida, Texas and New Jersey, more money meant slightly lower achievement. The study used a return-on-spending index for school districts developed by Standard & Poor’s, which looks at the percentage of students achieving reading and math proficiency for every $1,000 spent per student on core operations, to determine school productivity.
Even after adjusting for cost of living and student poverty variables, they found that districts with lower productivity spent $950 more per student than districts with above average productivity, and the most inefficient districts tended to devote an extra 3 percent of their budgets to administration and other nonteaching expenditures. In addition, the census report found that employee benefits, such as pensions and health care, were the fastest-growing cost in education spending, increasing at twice the rate of salaries.
What Thompson should do is look at how it spends its resources rather than how much. Simply laying off teachers who don’t have tenure is not the answer.