Public School Options Currently Available in Louisville Are Not Sufficient

WFPL reported this week that Jefferson County Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens has said that a strategy for fighting charter school support is pushing the idea that Jefferson County parents already have a form of school choice. First, you can’t take seriously the argument that there should be no charter schools in Jefferson County because sufficient choice already exists within the system. Jefferson County does in fact offer some programs and schools of choice for families, but the argument that the choices available to parents in Jefferson come close to meeting parents’ demand for high quality school options is simply false. And please don’t take my word for it, ask parents in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County parents will tell you that the JCPS portfolio of schools includes schools that have struggled mightily as well as schools that parents would be willing to pay tuition for their children to attend. Within JCPS, there are schools and programs of choice that parents try to use every available connection to get their children into, and there are other schools that very few parents with means would send their children to. The reality is that the general quality of the school your child attends in JCPS is a function of where you live in the school district, your social and political connections, your child’s academic ability, and sheer luck. There is always the possibility that you could live in a low-income neighborhood in Jefferson County, have no social or political connections to speak of, have a child with average academic ability, yet still have her accepted to one of the schools that parents fight over. But there’s also the possibility that you could win the lottery. We know that people do in fact win the lottery, but most of us will not. And getting your child into a school that you feel good about, ideally a high quality public school, shouldn’t be like playing the lottery.

So While Dr. Hargens is correct that there are some school options in JCPS, there are not nearly enough of them; and that’s not just my position, that’s the position of parents in Jefferson County. JCPS should welcome the creation of additional high quality school options for parents in Jefferson County, and they should be ready and willing to make the case to parents that the school options provided by JCPS are superior to anything else that’s available. The creation of high quality charter schools in Jefferson County would be a small step in the direction of forcing JCPS to compete for the tax payer dollars that fund public education for children in Jefferson County.

The Prichard Committee’s Position on Charter School Authorizing is Shortsighted

I have long been a fan of The Prichard Committee‘s education reform advocacy work in Kentucky. The organization has a rich history of pushing boundaries and challenging both policymakers and the public to consider uncomfortable but needed reform in education. But the Committee’s recent Statement on Charter Schools in Kentucky regarding charter school authorizing is incredibly shortsighted.

As one of the principles for considering charter schools in Kentucky, the Committee has taken the following stance:

  • Authorization of charter schools should be by local boards of education following rules established by the state Board of Education that define processes for creation, conversion, renewal, revocation, closure and dissolution. Training of local boards, provided by the Department of Education, on charter school regulations, procedures and oversight should be required prior to any authorization.  Authorization of charter schools should be allowable only in circumstances of persistently low-achieving schools and/or significant achievement gaps.

Such a stance is particularly problematic for advocates of high quality charter schools in Kentucky, first and foremost because we know from experience nationally that such an arrangement is not likely to lead to the creation of high quality charter schools in Kentucky. Iowa did something similar to what the Prichard Committee has called for and passed charter school legislation in 2002 which requires that charter schools be approved by local boards of education. The result is that there are only three charter schools in Iowa after 13 years. The position that only local school districts may serve as charter school authorizers in Kentucky, just as in Iowa, is nearly the same as taking the position that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. As evidence, you are likely to find support for the Prichard Committee’s Statement from opponents of charter school legislation in the Kentucky.

Over the last 25 years, we have learned that state charter school laws can be written in ways that guarantee that there will be few if any charter schools in a state. Opponents of charter school legislation work hard to incorporate those types of provisions into charter schools laws wherever possible. Mississippi’s first charter school law is a prime example. Under Mississippi’s former charter school law, the State Board of Education was the sole authorizer for charter schools in the state, and only a local school district could apply to convert one of its persistently low performing schools to a charter school.Even if granted the charter, the operation of a Mississippi charter school would have remained with the local school district. The result was that no charter schools were authorized in Mississippi. In 2013, Mississippi revamped its law, allowing for the creation of start-up and conversation charter schools that may be authorized by local boards of education, or a newly created Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. As a result, charter schools with promise are now being authorized in Mississippi.

Both the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), national organizations with records for advocating for strong charter school laws and high quality charter schools, have taken the position that state legislation should allow for multiple authorizers for charter schools. In measuring how state’s laws stack up to their model charter school legislation, the National Alliance scores states on the extent to which state laws “allow two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.”

NACSA’s position on charter school authorizers is below:

  • NACSA encourages states to establish an alternative authorizer that meets NACSA’s Principles & Standards and which provides all charter school applicants with at least two authorizer options in every jurisdiction. Ideally, the alternative authorizer would be an ICB [independent charter board] and would have the ability to take applications directly, not just upon denial by the local school district. Regardless of the type, all authorizers should be required to implement strong practices in keeping with NACSA’s Principles & Standards, or similarly rigorous state standards for authorizers.

The Prichard Committee’s desire to limit charter school authorizing to local boards of education is out of line with what we have learned nationally about the establishment of high quality charter schools, and with the recommendations of respected charter school policy organizations. Further, the superintendents of Kentucky’s two largest school districts have made it clear that they do not want charter schools in Kentucky. With that understanding, taking the position that charter schools may only be authorized by local boards of education is nearly the same as the Prichard Committee saying that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. If the Committee’s position is to support local boards of education in their opposition to charter schools in Kentucky, then they should simply say so. If that’s their position, they should make that position clear to the people of Kentucky, and not hide it behind a facade of moderate support for the establishment of charter schools.

Kentucky: Preparing for Performance-Based Funding in Higher Education

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) has said that the budget he will present to the legislature in January 2016 will include “outcomes-based funding”; or funding that is at least in part based on the performance of public agencies or publicly supported institutions. While Governor Bevin has not talked specifically about outcomes-based funding for higher education institutions, variants of performance-based funding in higher education have been adopted in all of Kentucky’s neighboring states, with the exception of West Virginia.

In a nutshell, performance-based funding of higher education differs from the more traditional funding approach in that state funding of institutions or systems is either in-whole or in-part dependent on an institution’s progress toward achieving certain goals or its progress on certain predetermined state-defined indicators or metrics. Common indicators for higher education performance-based funding include institutions’ retention rates, graduation rates, and successful course completion rates. Critics of traditional higher education funding approaches and advocates for performance-based funding argue that traditional funding models provide little incentive for institutions to improve retention and graduation rates, graduate students in a more timely manner, or graduate students with a more industry-ready skill set. Opponents of performance-based funding argue that such approaches disadvantage institutions that don’t perform well on performance indicators, but desperately need state funding to improve their performance.

The policy details of performance-based funding vary significantly from state to state. Among Kentucky’s border states alone, performance-based funding approaches differ substantially. For example, in Tennessee, institutions (two-year and four-year institutions) receive a base allocation for operations, but beyond that, all state funding is allocated based on institutions’ progress on specified outcomes. Ohio has taken a different approach. For four-year institutions in Ohio, 50% of state funding for institutions is based on degree completion, and 30% of funding is based on course completion. For two-year institutions in Ohio, 50% of funding is based on course completion, 25% is based on state-defined completion milestones, and 25% is based on state-defined success points. Different still, in Indiana, 6% of funding for two-year and four-year institutions is based on state-defined specific institutional performance metrics, including: degree completion, at-risk degree completion, high impact degree completion, persistence, remediation, remediation success, on-time graduation, and an institution selected measure.

While Kentucky has not yet adopted performance-based funding for higher education, the policy conversation is not at all new in Kentucky. State policy makers as well as leaders at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) and at high education institutions across the commonwealth have engaged in relatively substantive policy conversations for the last few years about what performance based funding in Kentucky could look like. CPE President Bob King has encouraged the shift since 2011.

Most recently, in the 2015 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly, the Republican-led Senate passed a resolution to move higher education funding in the state in the direction of performance-based funding. The resolution directed the CPE to:

“develop a performance-based funding model for the public postsecondary education institutions; identify guiding principles and constraints; establish metrics that recognize difference of missions among research, comprehensive regional, and community and technical college institutions; require findings and recommendations to be reported by December 11, 2015.”

Voting on the resolution was for the most part along party lines, with most Republicans voting for the resolution and most Democrats voting against it. The resolution moved to the Democrat-led House and was assigned to the House Education Committee, which took no further action on it.

It should be noted that the presidents of both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have not been supportive of a shift to a performance-based funding model, making the argument that such a shift should not be considered without the General Assembly directing additional funding to higher education. State funding for higher education in Kentucky and across the U.S. has declined substantially in recent years. According to a 2014 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, most states continue to fund higher education “below pre-recession levels.” Specifically, they reported that every state with the exception of North Dakota and Alaska are spending less per student on higher education than they were spending prior to the recession.

Whether Kentucky adopts performance-based funding in 2016 remains to be seen, but CPE, community college, and four-year institution leaders would be well-advised to prepare for its eventual coming to the commonwealth.