Would ‘rich Will Get Richer’ Under Proposal to Tie School Funding to Student Performance?

AUSTIN -- Texas lawmakers are considering a plan designed to improve school performance that’s as simple as it is daring: Reward campuses with more money when students excel.The "outcomes-based" funding that may be part of a state plan to overhaul school finance scares some Democrats and public education advocates, but it may be the price of winning GOP state leaders' support for a big cash infusion for schools this session.“Here’s the carrot,” Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, explained at a December commission meeting to draft recommendations overhauling the state’s public school funding system. He said when schools perform well, “you’ll get more money.”But if Texas embraces a system that ties funding schools to student performance, it will be treading into territory few states have gone before. And critics warn the model would simply lavish more money on the schools that need it the least, while depriving poorer students of getting more resources.“It’s a pretty fringe policy,” said Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, calling it an “upside-down” way of approaching school funding. “The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.”Dallas school superintendent Michael Hinojosa knows a lot of his colleagues have reservations about outcomes-based funding, but he’s interested in how it would work. DISD went from 43 failing schools five years ago to four now. Such funding could benefit the districts like Dallas that are making progress.“I’m not 100 percent convinced, but maybe 75 to 80 percent,” he said. “I am intrigued because it gives an incentive to schools to do well with the kids most in need and help them move the ball forward.”This year, lawmakers in the GOP-dominated Texas Capitol are unified around the idea that public schools need more money -- but for many conservatives, the idea of throwing dollars at the problem without strings attached is unpalatable.Nicole Conley Johnson, a member of the commission who produced the school recommendations, said she doesn’t like the concept of tying funding to student outcomes, but she felt it was the only way to ensure public education got more state money.“The outcomes-based funding I felt like we had to concede to because the tone from leadership at the time was if you want more money, we’re going to have to have higher expectations for the students,” said Johnson, chief financial officer of Austin ISD. Many Republican lawmakers have long preferred offering more money in exchange for achieving goals, an education policy that is more commonly applied to teacher salaries. This year, Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen are among the leadership backing merit-pay proposals to reward the best teachers with more money.But funding schools based on student outcomes takes the incentive model to the next level, by saying the best schools should get more money.“Why don’t we set up a system where we try to reward those districts that make great decisions and encourage those who aren’t making as great decisions to perhaps change their approach,” said Todd Williams, CEO of the Dallas-based Commit education nonprofit who backed recommendations to the state to tie school funding to student outcomes.  Continue reading...

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