Saturday, October 20, 2012

FEDERAL MANDATES ON LOCAL EDUCATION: COSTS + CONSEQUENCES – Yes, it’s a Race, but is it in the Right Direction?

BY Kenneth Mitchell, Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents –Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, State university of new york at new paltz | Discussion Brief #8 – Fall 2012 |

New York’s hard won inclusion in the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative has already dramatically changed both how we educate our children and how we fund public K-12 education in our state.

Much is being sacrificed to meet both this expensive mandate and the newly enacted tax cap, all while serious challenges to the program’s validity and the
research upon which it is based remain.

Every school district in the state, no matter how well students and teachers had performed in the past, would have to revise curriculum, restructure assessment systems, reopen union contracts, adjust ongoing strategic planning, modify long-term budget plans, and fund new mandates.

This report finds:

The costs to implement RTTT mandates well exceed the funding, for example:

In six Rockland County districts, leaders projected a total four-year cost of almost $11 million.

This compares with an aggregate revenue of about $400K in Race to the Top funding – a $10 million deficit representing an increase in average per pupil spending for this single initiative of nearly $400 per student.

In a sample of eighteen Lower Hudson school districts, the aggregate cost just to get ready for the first year of RTTT in September 2012 was $6,472,166, while the aggregate funding was $520,415.

These districts had to make up a cost differential of $5,951,751 with local taxpayer dollars.

There are serious challenges to this federal program’s validity, and the research upon which it is based.
Without substantive validation, New York State and U.S.taxpayers are funding a grand and costly experiment that has the potential to take public education in the wrong direction at a time when we need to be more competitive than ever before.

• Much is being sacrificed to meet this expensive mandate in the context of the state’s newly enacted tax cap, including: teacher and staff cuts resulting in increased class sizes; redirected priorities and unmet facilities’ needs; diminishing professional development; a narrowing of curriculum; and sacrificed leadership in curriculum development and nontraditional approaches.

• New York’s leaders still have the opportunity to change its course before its school systems are radically and unalterably changed, perhaps for the worse, and at a great short and long-term financial loss to all taxpayers.
• This paper recommends: a mid-course assessment to determine progress for achieving real return on this costly investment; greater local flexibility in evaluation processes; more careful consideration of the technology infrastructure and testing costs implications; and better planning, especially concerning teachers and principals who receive poor evaluations.

In August 2010, the United States Education Department announced that New York State was one of ten jurisdictions (nine states and the District of Columbia) to succeed in the second round competition in the Federal Race to the Top initiative (RTTT).

It was big money: oversight spending has been mandated, displacing resources and attention needed for the direct delivery of instruction.

And it is far from certain that the results will be positive for student learning.

Via a case study of Lower Hudson Valley school districts, this report documents and brings into specific focus the early local consequences of Race to the Top in our region.


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