How Arne Duncan could have saved Philadelphia Schools

Posted on August 16, 2013


Much has been written about how Philadelphia schools got into the financial mess that they are currently experiencing. Some blame teacher unions while others blame district leadership or simply the inefficiency of urban district bureaucracies.

More likely culprits are the state management of Philly schools that put the district deep in the red, a state charter school funding system that transfers large amounts of money from public districts to charter districts that greatly exceeds the cost to educate students in the charter schools, and a state finance system that has become increasingly regressive under the new governor Bruce Baker has written a number of very insightful posts at schoolfinance101 that can be accessed below.

Stop School Funding Ignorance Now! A Philadelphia Story

Most Screwed Local Public School Districts Update 2009-2011

The Commonwealth Triple-Screw: Special Education Funding & Charter School Payments in Pennsylvania

Which states screw the largest share of low income children? Another look at funding fairness

How could Arne Duncan have saved Philly schools? Instead of insisting that states adopt unproven, research-free teacher and principal evaluation systems in return for NCLB waivers and Race to the Top funds from the federal government, the US Department of Education could have insisted that a progressive (or at the very least, equal) school finance system be adopted as a condition of receiving an NCLB waiver or RttT funds.

Interestingly, I was at a convention in Washington DC at which several USDoE high-level leaders spoke. During the question and answer forum, I asked them why the USDoE did not adopt such a requirement. The three panelists looked at each other, hesitated, and then one finally hemmed and hawed about this and that and finished with something to the effect of, “we do believe spending matters.”

Frankly, I’m not sure having such a requirement ever occurred to them. Perhaps the USDoE did not believe states would apply for RttT or NCLB waivers if they were going to have to spend more money to create equalized and adequate education funding systems. Or, perhaps USDoE decision-makers were heavily influenced by the reform crowd and those members appear to believe that money does not matter.

Bruce Baker and number of others have repeatedly shown that money does, in fact matter. Yes, how you spend it is very important, but the level and degree of equity in funding is critical as well. See the links below for information on this issue.

Friday Finance 101: School Finance Formula & Money Matters Basics

More with Less or More with More & Why it Matters!

When schools have money…

The Disturbing Inequities of the New Normal

So, the question remains: Why didn’t the USDoE adopt such a requirement and what are they doing to blackmail entice states to adopt more equitable and adequate funding systems?

I won’t hold my breathe for an answer.

Posted in: Uncategorized