Even though the number crunching is far from over, there’s good and bad in Wednesday’s release of draft budget recommendations from the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. While the current numbers still must be reviewed by Chairs of the Appropriations Committees, the lack of extra money has worked to keep spending – relatively speaking — in check. The increase in the K-12 budget is about a 1 percent increase over approved FY2008-09 budget levels. On the negative side, there’s still enough questionable K-12 spending in the education budget to infuriate most North Carolinians. Some of the worst examples include:
The subcommittee recommended $90 million in ABC bonuses ($70 million in FY 2007-08) for schools that meet or exceed expected growth in 2007-08 school year. That’s a lot of money. Is it worth it? Since 2000, NC has paid out approximately $760 million in bonuses. I’m all for rewarding excellence, but last I checked 42 percent of NC schools did not make AYP goals (2005). In 2007 Only 46 percent of white and 14 percent of black eighth grade math students were classified as "proficient" or above on 2007 NAEP math tests. Performance is an issue as well as how the ABC bonuses are distributed. ABC bonuses are based on school performance, NOT on individual merit. In my view, ABC bonuses merely dilute and work against the concept of true merit pay — a concept the entire system sorely needs.
The subcommittee recommended a second year of one-time funding ($2.9 million in non-sSupplemental Funding from FY 2007-08. I always assumed a drop in the need or eligibility for Low Wealth Counties Supplemental Funding was a good thing. The committee is saying, we need to provide additional assistance because improved economic conditions are creating a hardship for the district. Go figure.
Dropout Prevention Grants.
The subcommittee recommended an expansion of the dropout prevention grants from $7 million to $10 million. While this may look like a good thing, don’t be fooled. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation raises some legitimate criticisms of the program. Instead of being targeted to high need areas, many of the grants are going to schools that already have considerable resources to address dropouts or don’t really have a dropout problem. A good program evaluation – such as those being conducted by the Program and Evaluation Division of the General Assembly — would normally bring to light such shortcomings. However, if the Joint Legislative Commission on Dropout Prevention and High School Graduation gets its way, that will never happen. As I wrote about previously, the final draft of Commission’s report deleted language requiring the Program and Evaluation division to evaluate the impact of dropout prevention grants. The current language merely requires DPI to evaluate the recipients and report back to the legislature. There are several problems here. First does anyone really think DPI is going provide an unbiased and better evaluation than the Program and Evaluation division? Secondly, and equally important; why are we expanding a program that is poorly targeted and lacks sufficient evidence to say it is even working?