Thursday, December 9, 2010

How Firm a Foundation

Today's Boston Globe carried a front page article on the Boston Foundation/Mass Business Alliance for Education report on how and if the foundation budget has worked over the past several years, particularly in terms of health insurance. While both the Globe and MBAE have spun this (no big surprise) as a sort of hammer the union piece, the author of the study Edward Moscovitch actually does studies for just about everyone, including the National Education Assocation, and his own opinions are across the board.
The main point of the study--that, while the foundation budget calculates in inflation, health care costs have risen significantly faster than inflation--is entirely true. The foundation budget grew at the inflation rate of 3.4% per year from 2000-2007, while health insurance coverage grew at 13.6% a year. Thus the costs of health coverage have more than eaten up the growth.

 Meanwhile, the thrust of ed reform around equity of resources has not panned out as intended. While wealthier districts have stepped up their spending to make up the difference, poorer districts have not been able to do so. One thus ends up with some districts spending significantly over their minimum foundation budget, and many (including Worcester) spending at it.
The chart on page 10 (their numbers; it's 13 on the pdf) is particularly telling in terms of spending on per-pupil spending on such things as education materials (yes, including textbooks at -11.3%).
Salaries, meanwhile (and this didn't make the headline) have risen with the cost of living.
Going back to the original point about spending equity, particularly since 2007, the highest need and lowest wealth districts have been hit particularly hard; Moscovitch calculates a drop of per-pupil spending of 3.1% when adjusted for inflation, giving a cumulative drop of 17.7% since 2000.
..which brings us to another damning chart on page 18 (or 21) showing a spending rate of 16% below foundation for districts such as Worcester's, when the "true cost" is run. And remember, these are the districts where it costs more, on average, to educate a child, as those districts have more children of high need.
Moscovitch concludes:
  • not only the state, but districts, need to spend more on education
  • the state currently doesn't have more revenue to spend
  • health care costs are squeezing the rest of the state budget, as well as local education budgets
  • Health care costs must be contained. He gives several suggestions on how to do so (which is why you should read the study, and not just the Globe coverage).

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