Accountability debate swirls around Capitol’s school funding plans
Sen. Arnie Roblan, co-chair of the Student Success Committee and a member of its accountability subcommittee, has indicated the Legislature should have some say in how districts spend any new education funding. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Legislators want to be able to show spending-averse colleagues and voters that new education investments will pay off in improved results.
As lawmakers in a key committee consider proposing additional school funding, the popular High School Success Fund (Measure 98) will likely offer the model for new grants.
Last week, the Joint Committee on Student Success Accountability and Transparency Subcommittee wrapped up more than a month of hearings on different accountability approaches used statewide and in other states. The subcommittee is scheduled to report its recommendations Tuesday, March 12.
The Student Success Committee, Gov. Kate Brown and even businesses that will likely bear the brunt of new taxes are talking about increasing the state’s education investment by $2 billion or more. Education-spending supporters are keenly aware that passing a tax measure and surviving a possible voter referendum will require showing clearly how money is benefiting students.
“With more resources comes more accountability,” said Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, subcommittee co-chair, during one hearing.
The Joint Ways and Means co-chairs’ 2019-21 budget, the foundation for the state’s spending decisions, proposed $8.87 billion for the State School Fund. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials estimated that districts need $9.13 billion for most to maintain current service levels. During the budget release, the co-chairs indicated that any additional spending would likely have to come from revenue measures crafted by the Student Success Committee.
A January audit critical of Portland Public Schools provided fodder for waste watchdogs, but the legislators’ accountability discussion has gone much wider. Legislators are looking for accountability measures that incentivize effective programs and promote student success.
During last Thursday’s subcommittee meeting, legislators discussed noncompetitive grants with an approval process that includes a district spending and monitoring plan.
The Legislature would designate possible areas for improvement, much like Measure 98 money can be used for career and technical education, dropout prevention or college readiness. Districts would choose which “bucket” they want to invest in and commit to specific outcomes or goals, such as improving third-grade reading or improving ninth-grade on-track numbers.
Measure 98 has been popular with districts, giving schools money for locally designed programs. OSBA, along with the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, the Oregon Education Association and Stand for Children, have advocated for a School Improvement Fund similar to Measure 98.
The fund is only in its second year, though, and the Oregon Department of Education doesn’t expect to know how effective it has been until June reports come in. Districts will be the judges of whether they are achieving their goals, according to Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill.
Many legislators want to take a more active role in both monitoring and helping districts.
Student Success Committee Co-Chair Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, has repeatedly pointed out that since 1990s measures limited property taxes, the state has provided roughly two-thirds of school funds. Yet most school money comes through an enrollment-based formula that allows schools to allocate spending as they see fit.
During hearings, school board members and administrators told legislators those local decisions are important because each district has different challenges and strengths. Although statewide graduation rates, absentee rates and class-size averages are cause for concern, some districts see other more pressing issues.
The subcommittee has been toying with the idea of “outcome-based funding.” Instead of being based on student enrollment, funding would depend upon students reaching some desired goal. The idea is to incentivize good outcomes, but legislators have struggled with the counter result of reducing money where it’s most needed.
Their recommendations include consideration of holding back up to 10 percent of a district’s grant until it meets its goals. If a district failed to meet its goals, the money could be given to a district with more prescriptive rules on its use, or it could fund ODE-created Student Success Teams offering guidance to low-performing districts.
Such teams of experts to help low-performing districts are a general part of the subcommittee’s ideas, whether or not coupled with the hold-back money.
The hold-back idea could have other provisions, such as only applying to districts with high per-pupil funding or only going into effect after the districts have had a few years to get their plans up and running.
The full committee will have to work out details such as who sets and checks the metrics. The subcommittee also wants the larger group to consider longer-range challenges with developing a statewide information system and addressing the abundance of data and assessment requests that districts already face.
During one hearing, ODE reported that it has more than 92 data collections a year, most to satisfy federal or state law.
Roblan pointed out that schools are asked to collect data in areas that are other agencies’ responsibilities, such as health and safety.
“We have to figure out the metrics that we think are important,” he said.
Gill testified that ODE often lacks the resources to do much more than verify that a district meets a requirement, and he said he would like the department to be able to analyze the data and support school efforts more.
During testimony, district superintendents told legislators that they face dozens of accountability checks in addition to ODE requirements, including accounting reports, statewide assessment tests and school board meetings.
Many of the data points, such as graduation rates and end-of-year assessment tests, might be useful for measuring how a district did with students, but they don’t warn schools a student is drifting away.
The subcommittee took an in-depth look at Forecast5 Analytics last week, calling in Forecast5 Managing Director Jeff Carew and OASBO Executive Director Angie Peterman. Carew showed how the data analytic program could help districts monitor program efficiency and individual student progress. The application draws from existing data submitted to ODE.
OSBA has invested $1.5 million to subsidize Forecast5 for Oregon districts. OSBA Executive Director Jim Green said it was a way to give districts more useful access to their information.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA