Pennsylvania, Illinois and the Stimulus – What is Duncan thinking?

Posted on June 20, 2009



So… I read these two stories this past week as I get more deeply involved in understanding the impact of the stimulus funding for public schools, specifically, the general stabilization money  around which there seems to be increased controversy of late.

In the first story which appeared in many locations, here is one:

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aRx4YhYdDW3E

Duncan takes aim at Pennsylvania for not dipping into its rainy day fund to increase education spending – with stimulus included. Duncan sends a letter to the PA governor explaining that the state’s stabilization money might be jeopardized.

In this second story, Duncan appears to apologize to Illinois for previously being critical of their lack of movement on education funding and reform. For some reason, he now believes they’ve made progress.

Here’s my back story on these two states. I repeatedly run state-by-state analyses of the relative levels of spending and more importantly the progressiveness and regressiveness of state and local resources across school districts in states. Progressively funded systems are those that allocated systematically greater support to districts with greater measurable costs and student needs. Regressive states do the opposite.

Through 2006, Pennsylvania and Illinois have been the most regressively funded states in the country, with Philadelphia the least well funded (relative to low poverty surroundings) and Chicago second least well funded major city in the country. Okay… so PA was last and IL second to last. Arne’s critique makes sense? Well, no! Because PA actually adopted a new funding formula which will – if actually implemented over time – change the distribution of resources across PA districts quite significantly, and approporiately. The latest run I have of district by district state aid allotments for PA districts from the PDE web site indicates that the 2009-10 allotments move ever so slightly in the right direction over the 2008-09 allotments. These are March 2009 estimates (http://www.pdeinfo.state.pa.us/education_budget/lib/education_budget/BEF0910_Mar09_Web.xls)

Please… someone out there correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I can tell, Illinois has done little or nothing to resolve the plight of Chicago Public Schools and perhaps even more importantly, the plight of many even poorer inner urban fringe districts around Chicago. Now that PA has taken some steps to move forward on school funding reform, IL is well positioned to be dead last on measures of “equal educational opportunity” as provided through funding. Is these really deserving of Duncan’s apologetic approach to his old stomping ground?

The article on Duncan’s apology to Illinois specifically goes further to say that Chicago should be able to pay differential wages to teachers in positions where the district is likely to be losing teachers to surrounding districts. Indeed this makes sense, but this problem is directly related to the fact that Chicago simply has less competitive overall resource levels than it’s more affluent neighbors which are also able to provide more desirable working conditions. Rhetoric about differential teacher pay – as a “progressive” strategy – distracts from the main point that Chicago Public Schools and surrounding poor inner urban fringe districts simply don’t have sufficient resources to compete with surrounding affluent suburbs.

Implying that Pennsylvania is a scofflaw for not using rainy day funds (while implementing significant reforms) and exonerating Illinois despite complete inaction on school funding reform – seems inconsistent at best.

I may be wrong… I’m shooting from the hip this morning without my hard drive of data archives.

WHAT MATTERS HERE IS THE ACTUAL TOTAL AMOUNT OF REVENUE PER PUPIL [FED, STATE, LOCAL] AVAILABLE IN EACH LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT AND SCHOOL… NOT WHERE THE MONEY COMES FROM AND NOT THE TOTAL – AGGREGATE – AMOUNT SPENT BY THE STATE.

I ASSURE YOU THAT THOSE IN THE TRENCHES AND THE CHILDREN THEY SERVE ARE MORE CONCERNED WITH THEIR LOCAL BUDGET AND THE EDUCATION IT CAN BUY, THAN WITH SOME 9 TO 10 FIGURE STATE BUDGET WHICH IS LARGELY A POLITICAL ABSTRACTION.

A STATE COULD MEET THIS REQUIREMENT OF INCREASING TOTAL FUNDING SIMPLY BY ALLOCATING LARGER SHARES TO AFFLUENT SUBURBS. A STATE COULD CREATE A LESS EQUAL, LESS FAIR SYSTEM, AND IT SEEMS THAT THAT WOULD BE OKAY? DRIVING THE STIMULUS MONEY THROUGH THE CURRENT GENERAL AID FORMULA IN MANY STATES DOES JUST THAT.

Update on PA here:

http://www.heraldstandard.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=20334428&BRD=2280&PAG=461&dept_id=480247&rfi=6

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