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May 01

2013 Early Education Funding

2013 Early Education Funding

Brian D Smiley

April 29th, 2013

InfluxProduction.com

The new model being attempted for the last twelve years for P-12 education in United States schools is a reform movement that ties in teacher and school performance with student test scores. This is characterized by the “No Child Left Behind” policy of the GW Bush administration. As Houston notes, this policy directly affects federal funding for schools based on results through standardized tests (Houston 2009, p 262). Teacher layoffs, school closures and an endless cycle of principals and staff may have created a destabilizing effect on many students. Although the data that reflects student progress is debatable, there is clearly room for improvement in the public schools after years of cuts to the arts, physical education and with sequestration moving forward, unless dramatic reversals get through congress. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Developments’ (OECD) PISA test ranks the US at about halfway up on a list of 34 countries for reading, science and math (OECD.org, 2012).  The website notes that the richest countries are not always the most successful learners. Education Historian at New York University, Diane Ravitch clearly spells out how public schools can become the dumping grounds for students who do not receive vouchers or acceptance to charter schools instead of the model for one of America’s most important democratic institutions. She admonishes that the reform movement is a disguise to privatize education. However, one common voice being heard from educators, activists and politicians is the need to fund preschool access, early childhood health initiatives and programs for P-12 education.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently cited James Heckman’s analysis of the Perry Preschool Project to show that there is a return on investment of seven dollars to one for preschool funding (Duncan 2013). However, the study, begun in 1962 was a demonstration project (Schweinhart 2004). President Obama’s proposed “Preschool For All” program, mentioned in his latest State of the Union address, suggests a dramatic increase in funding for children from low to moderate-income levels to gain access to pre-kindergarten quality education. Hand in hand with this is the continued funding of the longstanding Head Start program. Other programs like Race to the Top and the RESPECT project are laying out the groundwork for an increase in education spending in the face of dramatic cuts from the Budget Control Act of 2011 to just about every other public institution.

There are many sides to education funding that are being voiced through the government, new school models and private organizations. Entrepreneur Bill Gates has recently spoke of the importance for teacher feedback mechanisms of their performance. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest amount of expenditure in America is with education programs (Gates, 2013). Their initiatives have supported the rise of charter schools and the voucher system. Education experts like Diane Ravitch have dire warnings about the erosion of the public school system. The former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice has even gotten into game in a report with former NY Schools chief Joel Klein that declared, in March of 2012, a failure to provide quality education in areas of science, languages and technology can create a national security risk. Despite this warning, The Heritage Foundation, lambasts the president’s proposal for an increase in education funding of 2.5 percent above 2012 levels at 70 billion, stating more bureaucracy is not what is needed for the 4200 person Department of Education (Burke & Sheffield 2012).

In a bold move against privatization and school closures as a way of reform, Randi Weingarten, the head of the nations largest union, the National Education Association, was recently arrested for blocking a hearing where Philadelphia public schools were to be closed (Resmovits, 2013). The idea is to move underperforming kids into new learning environments. Yet, University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute report stated that only 6% of students performed better in the new schools (Resmovits 2013). Although segregation in the school system is again an issue with many charters schools taking only upper class students and cheating scandals coming to the light when schools are pressured to continuously show improvement, the city of Chicago is moving ahead with a plan to close 80 public schools (Ravitch 2012).

Catholic school educator, Sister Dale McDonald reports that the gridlock in the 113th congress is a major hurdle to education finance in the private and public school communities alike. With sequestration looming, both her and Arne Duncan warn that because education is forward-funded, “districts may begin to ‘hoard” funds for when the impact is felt next year” says McDonald (2013).  The sequestration would effect disadvantaged students with a $41 billion cut in Title I grants, a $200 million cut from Title II –A, which are funds for professional development and special education grants reduced by more than $900 million. The long standing traditions of private schools and the democratic institution of public school are often at odds for federal dollars and in some situations parents can now decide where the funding will go with both state and federal voucher systems for their children.

Sister Dale McDonald’s article in the journal Momentum, found through Online Ashford Library and the ProQuest database, provides a perspective from the Catholic school community on what to expect for education finance and the overall approach from the current congress on education. She uses her article to carefully outline both the pitfalls of the proposed sequestration and beneficial tax breaks that are still in place for student’s families. Her critique of congress and the executive branch is backed up with well-researched facts on the budgetary details within the President’s most recent proposals for 2014 and the Budget Control Act of 2011 that is bringing on spending cuts for certain areas of education in the P-12 environment (McDonald, 2013).

The Heritage Foundation’s 2012 critical report on Obama’s education blueprint, found through ERIC, succinctly summarizes the Republican approach to government spending, taxation and federal overreach into the State’s business. Despite the current administration’s ongoing approach of seeing education as a long-term investment, the authors do not see the results and echo a sentiment from taxpayers for “fiscal restraint in Washington” (Burke & Sheffield 2012). They point to a DC voucher system that was proposed to be cut in place of the stricter federal funding for public and charter schools only. To them, this is evidence that the cuts are not specific enough and bureaucratic in their nature (Burke & Sheffield, 2012).

Michael Resnick’s 2012 article on education funding was also found through the ERIC database of EBSCO. Here he details the cuts that went into effect last year because of the congressional inaction to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) along with other programs. His appeal is largely aimed at the members of the National School Board Association as their Director for Federal Advocacy. His warnings about the cuts that would happen seem to be moving forward unless education can be protected from the sequester by last minute proposals in the budgets. (Resnick, M 2012).

Education funding has many parameters. From teacher preparation programs to Pell grant funding and from making it easy to fill out a FISA application to making sure low income children get enough to eat, the diverse nature of our education system becomes clear when, as Houston says, “you follow the money” (Houston, 2009, p 276). Discovering if early education programs work requires long-term studies and accurate testing systems. Education historian Diane Ravitch points to the models of success in countries like Finland and South Korea which she says have capitalized on the best parts of the American system with school unions and early childhood education investment. She contests that the American system is not in need of the standardization reforms being pushed by the current Administration or the privatization model being pushed by Republicans. In order to get the averages up across the spectrum of students, she feels poverty and segregation need to be addressed (Ravitch, 2012). The PISA test results show that school systems that invest in quality education environments and that respect the student’s complete learning background typically score the highest on the survey.

Research is showing that preschool preparation and K-12 health is an important part of creating education success. Preschool education is being reformed along with increases in spending in areas of health, access and parent involvement. President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal sees continued increases in education at 4.6 percent over 2013 and it includes many reforms and programs to increase safety and improve learning environments for both the preschool and K-12 learning environments (Dept of Education 2014 Budget). Recent changes into No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provide flexibility to the states so that they can more carefully bring up scores while avoiding drastic budgetary cuts and closures but it is up to the states to make the request for changes (ed.gov). It seems as if the reform programs are finally being reformed.

Programs like “Head Start” have slight decreases in funding scheduled yet are seen as ways to make sure that students in early education classrooms are less distracted by hunger pangs and health issues. Those students that were supported by this model have had definitive success stories. The model of the Perry Preschool Project shows that real world individualized learning strategies, holistic development and bringing the parents into a hands-on learning environment also improves income, health and lowers crime and teen birth rates for lower income families (Schweinhart 2004). It remains to be seen if this randomized controlled trial can be replicated at the large scale but it does seem to suggest that when children have a healthy perspective on the learning environment they may be more apt to want to learn. When combined with assessing, acquiring and keeping the highest quality educators and facilities the youngest students benefit throughout their lifetimes. Previous preschool funding was left largely to the states.

Diane Ravitch stated that one of the most important solutions to bringing up the achievement gap across K-12 schools is to invest in prenatal care because pre-term babies often have cognitive deficiencies (Ravitch 2012). She goes on to point out that reduced class size, having a nurse and social worker in every school and afterschool activities are all ways to improve the basic public education system without requiring standardized tests. In fact, she thinks that the testing should be like a students medical records. The results of the tests can be used as a diagnostic tool for the teacher and principal instead of a mark of passing or failing outright (Ravitch, 2012). She opposes the approach taken by Michelle Rhee in Washington DC, from 2007 to 2010 where, as school chancellor, she enacted school closures and teacher firings to meet the strict No Child Left Behind regulations and saw minimal success, if any. Rhee is considered anti-union and is advocating an approach that privatizes schools. Obama’s regulation ending DC’s school voucher programs may go a little way to correct the damage of the hard lined reform policies and the resulting atmosphere of segregation as P-12 schools seek only the best students to raise their testing scores and passing rates. Houston points to questionable cheating exposed by the Dallas Morning news where a grade three at Wilmer Elementary in Texas showed dramatic success at that key grade but the results not duplicated across other grades for that school (Houston 2009, p 262). The pressures for educators to not loose funding may mean skewing the results of tests in their favor under these policies.

In the latest education financing proposals for 2014, the administrations’ Preschool Development Grants ensure that states expand preschool access to four year olds. Some socio-economically disadvantaged preschoolers will also benefit from the investment in the Promise Neighborhoods program. The Promise Zones that are proposed will empower local communities to gain access to all levels of education. School improvement projects also inevitably effect preschool learning environments with overall facility enhancements. Finally, the school safety requirements section of the education budget allots $112 million to enhance emergency preparedness and school gun violence reduction. Details of the proposals will come to light, as specific budget proposals are made to the 113th congress and senate in the coming months.

Federal year 2014 funding highlights for education along with important facts about the reforms and new programs are gleamed on the Department of Education website. Specifically, the proposed programs for 2014 are highlighted here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/education.pdf

The ed.gov website focuses on statements made by officials in the Obama administration, performance outcomes that back up their decisions and special information for citizens on state and federal funding issues. Obama’s programs for preschoolers, that was mentioned in the latest State of Union Address, is outlined on this website: http://www.ed.gov/p-12-reform.  This government resource covers information about funding, research, policy and news as it relates to both P-12 and College level students.

Former Assistant Secretary of education, New York University education historian and once member of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Board, Diane Ravitch’s website is full of useful and relevant education information. Here personal blog and Twitter feed is accessible on her page along with informative interviews and talks. Her featured video at The City Club in Chicago in 2012 was useful to get a snapshot on her perspective for a wide range of education reform topics and can be found here: http://dianeravitch.com/.

Finally, the National Education Association’s website, at www.nea.org, highlights key issues that are current and relevant to education financing. The NEA voices the opinions of educators and students. It is comprised of 3 million members and is the nation’s largest professional employee organization. They support No Child Left Behind’s initiatives but feel that the law needs to be improved. They are critical of the President’s current budget and provide links to articles like this that say cuts to the social safety net affect schools adversely: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2013/04/11/presidents-budget-disappoints-educators-concerned-for-students-working-families/.

Overall, a careful look at enacting drastic reform versus careful expenditures is still needed. Ravitch points out that we live in a society that has blamed much on the public education system yet in many areas we are successful and improving. Getting the congress to fund early childhood education will be important for the long-term success of the economy, to reduce crime and to fill important positions. There are good arguments that early education funding should be treated like an investment in the future of the country but unwise investments would drain the potential for economic and social success.

 

References

 

Burke, L & Sheffield R (April 12, 2012). Obama’s 2013 education budget and blueprint; a costly expansion of federal control. The heritage Foundation retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/04/obamas-2013-education-budget-and-blueprint-a-costly-expansion-of-federal-control

Duncan, A (April 29, 2013). Opening Statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan–Release of NIEER’s “The State of Preschool 2012″ Yearbook.  Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/opening-statement-us-secretary-education-arne-duncan-release-nieers-state-preschool-20

Houston, B. (2009). The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook: A Guide to Documents, Databases and Techniques (5th Ed). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin

McDonald, D (Mar 2013) What Can the Education Community Expect from the 113th Congress? Momentum Vol 44, 1 p 63. Retrieved from http://www.readperiodicals.com/201302/2944793631.html

Ravitch, D (Oct 15, 2012). two visoms for chicago’s schools. Speech and Q & A. retrieved from http://cityclubvideo.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/diane-ravitch/#more-622

Resmovtis, J (March 7, 2013) Randi Weingarten Arrested For Protesting Philadelphia School Closure Hearing (UPDATE). Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/randi-weingarten-arrested_n_2832306.html

 

Resnick, Michael (Sep 2012). American School Board Journal. Vol 19, issue 9 p 6-14. Retrieved from http://www.asbj.com/MainMenuCategory/Archive/2012/September/September2012-School-Board-News.html

Scheinhardt L (2004) The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40: Summary, Conclusions, and Frequently Asked Questions. (High/Scope Press 2004)

 

 

Resource Websites:

National Education Association:

http://www.nea.org/home/1709.htm

United States Department of Education:

http://www.ed.gov/

2014 federal year Budget for Education Department:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/education.pdf

Bill Gates Interview:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/30/bill-gates-on-education-t_n_2584107.html