School finance formulas in Texas are difficult enough to comprehend, but the additions of race politics, opaque machinations on Ross Avenue after trustees pass the annual budget, and the ability of some schools to attract volunteers and private foundation monies disturb any sense of per student spend for Dallas public school students.
Definitions of comparability and equity will now become heated discussions as Dallas school trustees debate fairness in funding for the poor children who are spread throughout the city. In order to understand the current budget discussions as they relate to Superintendent Mike Miles’ plan to spend an extra $8 million in only two feeder patterns plus the recently added Madison, background is needed.
Texas has a system of formulas that weight the cost of educating some children as greater than the cost of educating others. While there are state mandates for gifted and talented identification and services (which Dallas ISD does not follow), there is very little money provided by the state and only 5% of students can be identified for a tiny amount of extra funding.
In present state and federal formulas, ESL, special education, career education, and compensatory education are given more money per student identified for services. In addition, the state of Texas provides a high school allotment for each student of $265.
While there is logic to providing more money for students who require additional teachers and certifications, once this money is computed by the state of Texas and sent to Dallas ISD, the money doesn’t have to follow the students who generated it! High schools filled with ESL, special education, low income and CTE students are cash cows, but parents and students would never know it after Ross Avenue distributes the state foundation monies generated by these students to other campuses.
In addition, state and federal laws allow way too much of the money generated by these students to be spent on administrative costs which add to the legions of central administrators. Aside from as much as half the weighted funding being parked at 3700 Ross Avenue, weighted funding isn’t being used to increase per student spend on high school campuses. General education funds for many high school campuses are simply robbed with programmatic funds supplanting general education funds.
Under state law, this is legal. Ethical? No. Students at the poorest Dallas high schools essentially fund programs and students across town as well as positions for central administrators.
Title I Comparability Formulas
Federal Title I funds are intended to add more funding to schools where the majority of the students are low income as identified by participation in the free and reduced lunch program. These federal funds are computed only by the number of Title I students on campus even though programs may be campus wide. Contrary to the rumors, Title I funding is only around $500 per student for the number of students on free and reduced lunches, not the entire campus. Title I funds are supposed to be used to directly impact students. Using Title I for instructional coaches, which is Miles’ intention, needs to be examined by trustees in consultation with TEA and the federal government.
There are other Title programs that can be used for staff development and other purposes.
Dallas ISD was found out of compliance with Title I laws a few years back when the federal government reminded Dallas ISD that there must be comparability between Title I schools and other schools BEFORE Title I funds are added.
Dallas administrators chose a Title I formula that compares the number of FTEs (defined by some as all staff and by others as teachers) on campus before Title I additions are made, but allows 10% discretion above and below the baseline and allows small schools to be in a group by themselves.
This comparability definition was a problem before Miles arrived and has been a disaster the past year. Secondary schools were not even staffed with core academic teachers, much less the additional positions guaranteed in Title I comparability formulas.
That Dallas is out of compliance with Title I comparability due to the ineptitude of Charles Glover and the rest of Human Capital is a fact. Due to Mike Miles’ ability to produce tumultuous teacher churn, and Dallas ISD’s lack of a recruiting proposition for teachers, Dallas public schools will not even have core academic positions filled in its secondary schools in the fall and will be out of compliance again.
Grants and Volunteers
Added to the question of comparability are the extra funds raised by individual schools and the fact that some schools are volunteer and donor rich and some schools have no volunteer participation or extra funding by their communities. Sadly, those schools with the most gifted students also have the advantage in raising donor funds and community support. Former Superintendent Hinojosa was clear that any funds given directly to the schools would be counted as operating funds in Title I comparability models. That whole issue went away when Dallas adopted a faux comparability model that uses staff instead of money for comparability. A look at the physical plant of most Dallas schools is a good indicator of the poverty level of students since upkeep and extras are supplied by some parents while campus blight is a fact in many neighborhoods.
The Harlem Zone Redux
Miles has thrown another wrench in the Title I comparability model with his plan to spend an extra $8 million in two feeder patterns. Comparability issues are a sidenote to the fact that Miles’ plan seems to rest on some vague notion of repeating the Harlem Zone, a New York charter school experiment that has not been proven to be instructionally effective.
Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone model provides a menu of social services to students in the Harlem Zone. The cost per student has risen as high as $16,000 with extra funds provided by philanthropists. (The Harlem Children’s Zone budget for the 15,000 children and adults in 2009 was $40M – a number that did NOT include the approximate $12,000 per child state contribution nor the wrap-around social services component of an additional $40M nor the $20M contribution to the $200M endowment. In the entirety of Dallas County there was an estimated $3M in charitable giving to education last year. All of which begs the question, “Would Dallas philanthropists really step up to the plate for this type of long term and very expensive commitment?”)
When queried about his plans for the extra $8 million Miles wants spent on basically two feeder patterns in Dallas ISD, Miles gave no details and circled around any actual details of a plan that was already turned down for Race to the Top funding by the federal government.
Whatever cards Miles is holding close probably would disclose more micromanaging of teachers, more layers of administrators, a longer school day, pay for performance, more tutoring, and nothing of interest. There seems to be little substance in Miles’ model which is also not sustainable.
In northwest Dallas, Thomas Jefferson High School has a comparable level of poverty as Pinkston, Lincoln and Madison. It needs 42 teachers in the fall. A mom from TJ followed Mike Miles around this past school year from Open Mike to Open Mike trying to get the superintendent’s attention regarding the fact that Jefferson had double digit teacher openings all year.
Poverty in Dallas school children is pervasive across the city. Any plan to soak two feeder patterns with funding will be at the expense of other children, the same as robbing low income high schools to provide funding for central administrators and other schools comes at the expense of Sunset, White, Adamson and other high schools with the lowest amount of revenue per student.
Pleasant Grove, old East Dallas, Vickery Meadows, north Oak Cliff, and northwest Dallas don’t have funds to lend from their schools to satisfy Miles’ plans, and they have levels of poverty and need as deep as the two targeted areas.
Trustees need to dig into the guts of campus budgets and ask many more questions.