A forum for Utah Moms to learn, discuss and act on legislation that will affect their families.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Does Every Student Cost the Same?

I recently heard a Senator proclaim quite pompously that 'people just don't understand how we fund education.'  It made me want to say, some Legislator's don't understand how we fund education either!  Last week @UtahTeacher posted an excellent overview on education funding (here), so in this post I would like to examine a specific education funding policy that falls prey to a basic fallacy.

Most Utahns have heard of the WPU or Weighted Pupil Unit.  The WPU is a way money is equally distributed to school districts and charter schools, but it is not the amount it costs to educate a student for one year.  For the 2011-2012 school year, the WPU in Utah is $2,816 (source).  The per pupil spending is actually closer to $6,600 though.  But does it cost the same to educate every student?  Absolutely not!  Obviously students who received specialized services (ELL, Resource, Accelerated etc.) cost more, but students who are 'mainstream' cost different amounts as well.  In high school, a student who takes a schedule heavy with art classes costs a different amount than a student who takes shop.  If a student must retake a class, there is a cost associated with that.  The bottom line is this: any proposal that attaches money specifically to a student is based on the false premise that students are equal and the same.
This year there are a few bills based on that premise, I will highlight the most egregious:

H.B. 123 Education Savings Accounts by Rep. Dougall

This bill would give 9th-12th graders an education savings account to pay for their classes and fees; classes could be taken at charter schools, traditional public schools, or in online classes from a public or private provider.  Students would receive $6,400 the first year.  Even traditional public schools would then charge the student's account to take classes.  If a student would like to take a more expensive applied technology class, they may have to pay out of pocket for their math if their course loads exceeds the $6,400.  At the end of the year any money remaining in the account would carry over.  If the student graduated with a balance they could use the money for colleges in Utah.  If a student has not earned a diploma after four years, and has no more money remaining, they will have to pay for their own classes to complete their high school diploma.  It will cost the state over $17 million dollars the first year, and $2 million in ongoing funds to maintain the financial program it will require.  There is no mention in the bill how this will work for students with special needs.  It is conceivable to imagine high schools offering less sports, clubs and classes outside those required if this law takes effect.  Rep. Dougall admitted to the State School Board that he realized it cost a different amount to educate every student, but he still is making a proposal that funds every student the same way.

I have often heard it argued that we need to fund students and not systems.  And to a point I agree.  But there is an importance in systems.  It is through systems that schools can provide specialized services, it is through systems that high school students can enjoy sports, student government, proms and clubs.  Systems provide transportation and are vital in rural areas of the state.  If we take funding students to the extreme, as Rep. Dougall's proposal does, it disregards and will eventually decimate the systems that we value.


UtahTeacher said...

Great post. I think you're too nice, or at least too diplomatic here. (Probably a good thing and why I would make a horrible lobbyist.)

How would each student be funded $6400? Only by claiming all local funds as state prerogative, plus eliminating the extra funding you detailed for Special Ed. kids, ELL kids, etc. So we would "socialize" education even more to the extreme detriment of the most struggling students.

Dougall and Stephenson admit they think Public Ed. is a morally wrong function of government and should be eliminated whenever they're not campaigning.

Here are some comments from Dougall you may not have seen last year on the blog of Tom Gregory, former Provo area State School Board member, now studying out-of-state. It started out w/ Tom's excellent post on why non-partisan school boards are superior to partisan proposals. The comments ranged to the overall state role in education.

Dougall believes that "Market forces would provide a more beneficial governance model for education," and that the establishment and maintenance of education in the state constitution does not actually mandate that the legislature fund education. (Seriously) Plus, school boards are uninformed and dumb, going right along with Stephenson's ring-in-the-nostril comments last fall.

If there is no funding of "the system," there will be no classes for the students to shop for using this $6400 voucher. $6400 doesn't fund anything. A pooled public resource creates opportunities for facilities, teachers, training, special classes, etc. Dougall is a numbers guy and knows this. I believe this is an indirect shot at his true aim of eliminating publicly funded education.

Karen said...

Rep. Dougall's bill was held in the House Education Committee this morning. It will be important to watch for this to either come back amended this session, during interim study or next year.

Barbara said...

HB123 is a poorly thought through piece of legislation. It creates far more logistical and administrative issues than any educational improvement it provides which will create more overhead and reduce the money available for instruction.

I'm embarassed that Dougall and Stephenson are my State Rep. and Senator, respectively. I couldn't disagree with them more regarding the role of government in education.

Market forces will not provide a more beneficial governance model for education for two reasons. First, for a market to function well, all parties must have good information. Not all parents have the time, skills or inclination to acquire good information like HB123 would require. Second, "public" education is as beneficial to society as it is to the individual--it is a "public good." Hence the name, "Public Education." We know that it costs the public, taxpayers, less to educate a child and prepare them to be a contributing member of society than it costs to deal with unproductive people that turn to crime. Education is a great equalizer. It is the force that allows individuals to make choices to change their circumstances. Privatizing education with vouchers, tax credits, or education savings accounts allows the elite to leave the less fortunate behind. That is not the type of society in which I would like to live. I hope HB123 and SB51 are defeated.