Monday, February 14, 2011

Floridarrrrrrrrr! I read Katherine Kersten's editorial about all the great things that are happening in Florida in terms of education results and thought I'd look up a few things, not to discredit her piece, but to try to put it in greater context. The crux of Kersten's article is that Florida has be implemented a number of reforms, most revolving around greater choice for parents, since 1999 and that they are showing positive results. There's no question that results in Florida look solid, but when I dug a little bit, I unearthed something that Kersten may have missed.

Since 1999, per pupil funding (as measured by Education Week in its annual Quality Counts publication) has grown by just over 63% in Florida (from $6,008 per pupil to $9,810 per pupil). By contrast, Minnesota's per pupil support has grown by just under 41% ($7,384 per pupil to $10,396 per pupil). Even with considerable increase in Florida's funding level, it still comes in behind the level of per pupil spending in Minnesota by almost $600 per pupil. While Florida's adequacy grade has only risen to a C- from a D+, Minnesota's has fallen from a B+ in 1999 to a C in 2008. Florida's education spending as a percentage of state GDP has remained at 3.6%, while Minnesota's has fallen from 4.2% to 3.7% That's a sobering set of statistics for those who take pride in Minnesota's record of support for public education.

Money isn't everything, but it is something. And while Florida still ranks in near the bottom in national funding rankings, it is obvious that they have spent wisely and have created some programs that are having desired results. I'd be tempted to say they have "invested" in their future except that it appears the term "invest" always causes a verbal dust-up (in fairness to legislative leadership, "investments" do cost money and when you don't have money to "invest," such moves are certainly wide open to criticism).

What the whole debate says to me is that it is unfortunate when the "reforms" vs. "resources" debate is framed as an either/or when it's really a both/and. In other words, both "reform" and "resources" are important and they need to work together to get results to where they need to be. We are probably past the time when legislatures will continue to pour resources into the education delivery system "as is." But at the same time, it is important to realize that reforms by themselves are not going to deliver results unless they are supported and finances are an important part of that support.

Makes for a great debate and I want to thank Kersten for her insight.

Quiet Day at the Legislature. The only education-related hearing was the Senate Education Committee. The bills heard today all dealt with either expanding the uses of total operating capital or allowing an annual transfer from the total operating capital by board resolution.

Senator Latz' SF 166 would allow a district to use total operating capital revenue for school closing purposes. Senator Stumpf's SF 171 would allow a district to use total operating capital revenue for leasing of vehicles, including school buses. Districts can currently purchase vehicles with total operating capital, but are prohibited from using revenue from this category to lease vehicles.

SF 239, Senator Kruse's bill that would allow a district to transfer $51 per pupil (1% of the basic formula amount) from the total operating capital fund to the general fund. This bill generated the most discussion, as the issue of local control versus the importance of reserving revenue in certain funds for restricted use received a full vetting. Although I didn't testify before the committee, the reason for the reserved capital fund is the fact that "windows and roofs don't testify before school boards."

More Twitter News. I guess Mark Dayton couldn't stand the fact that Karl Rove was following me on Twitter, because the Governor is now also following yours truly. No word yet as to whether Justin Bieber will be following me on Twitter by the end of the week.

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