Restricting school formula weakens its purpose
The Department of Education has proposed a 15 percent limit on the funds a school could lose under a new budget formula.
A PROPOSAL to limit the amount a public school would lose under a new funding formula
undermines the intent of the law that established the method. Although the plan appeases critics on the Board of Education and gives affected schools time to adjust, it impedes realignment of spending to fit the needs of students, something both the board and the Department of Education should keep in mind.
The board has delayed approving the funding structure five months past a deadline, holding back school administrators who must complete their budget plans by the end of the year.
The formula allots money for each student at a school based on "weights" that determine the cost of education rather than assigning schools a standard amount based generally on enrollment. Applying the formula means that some schools would see their funding drop while others would receive more.
This troubles some board members, particularly because smaller schools in rural areas would face steeper cuts and others that are struggling to meet federal achievement goals could be affected.
To ease into the change and to persuade the board to sign on, the department has proposed a 15 percent maximum on funding decreases for the first three years the formula is applied, which by law must begin in the 2006-2007 school year. Meanwhile, another provision spreads over three years increases schools are to receive under the formula.
The procedures unfairly penalize the schools and students who most need the money. They also run counter to the reason for the formula, which was to get more money to the classrooms. Moreover, exempting schools from the limit on an arbitrary "unique situations" basis could create inequities that unravel the formula.
There is no doubt the change will be difficult, but it compels schools to figure out what they really need to strengthen academic achievement, to choose what is essential and what isn't.
The department, which estimates the change will cost $2.2 million annually for three years, has asked for that amount in its $453 million supplemental budget request. It should consider setting up a fixed "adjustment" fund to pay out as need be until schools reconcile expenses.
Some board members have complained that the department has not responded fully to their legitimate concerns about the formula. The department should do so promptly, but board members must realize that some outcomes are unpredictable and that accommodations can be made if appropriate.
The department's proposal might sweeten the pill, but it only delays the inevitable.