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Report: Policies shield school districts from tough choices

This news story was published on May 1, 2013.
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May 1 (UPI) — Education policies in several U.S. states shield school districts from making hard decisions related to falling enrollment and per-pupil funding, a report said.

In the report, released Wednesday by Education Next, which has headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., authors Marguerite Roza and Jon Fullerton analyzed school funding practices that detach revenues from school enrollments.

The authors examined four common practices that allowed public funds to go to schools for students who had left the district. The practices include “protection” clauses against declining enrollment, hold-harmless provisions for districts competing with charter schools, subsidies to small districts and minimum allocations by category.

“In each case,” the authors said, “affected districts receive funds in excess of what they would receive if only the students on their rolls were funded.”

Policies meant to protect districts from the effects of shifting enrollments “weaken the incentives that should drive change and adaptation as enrollments fluctuate,” wrote Roza, director of the Fiscal Analytics Unit at Georgetown University and senior research affiliate at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, and Fullerton, executive director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.

Also, school district administrators tend to focus on the high “fixed costs” involved in running schools and consider salary and benefits as their largest fixed cost.

“Few in other industries consider personnel costs fixed,” the authors said.

Roza and Fullerton offered several policy options states could take to encourage more efficient use of public dollars, including:

— Funding schools based on a specified dollar amount per student so a school’s allocation automatically rises and falls with enrollment.

— Limiting districts’ practice of making long-term commitments they may not be able to fulfill by, for example, encouraging them to shift to defined-contribution pension programs and modifying tenure systems.

— Limiting state restrictions on use of funds that require a specific number of students to be in a class with a certain number of teachers, as well as encouraging development of online learning and rethinking service delivery to maximize student learning and minimize cost.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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