Thursday, April 1, 2010

Legislative Move to Restructure MFP

HCR 20 introduced by Rep. Carter and key members of the House and Senate Education Committees could be a major push inspired by State Superintendent Pastorek and supported by the Governor to radically restructure the Minimum Foundation program for state funding of public schools. While Concurrent resolutions do not have the force of law and are often ignored, local superintendents and school boards had better not make the mistake of ignoring this one.

HCR 20 urges BESE to make the following changes in the MFP for the coming school year:
  • Implement a school-based budgeting model with 80 percent of the MFP being dedicated to instruction
  • Include students in the custody of the office of juvenile justice in the MFP for funding of educational services provided by the state for these students.
  • Phase out by 2012 the pre-GED/Skills Options program and require local education agencies to redirect MFP dollars to dropout prevention programs modeled after the Jobs for America's Graduates program
  • Require that a portion of any increase of the MFP per pupil funding be used for dropout prevention.
According to the "Whereases" in the resolution, the recommendation for changing to school-based budgeting comes from the Commission on Streamlining Government and the proposal that MFP money follow students sentenced to the juvenile justice system comes from the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission. Also it is well known that Superintendent Pastorek has been greatly frustrated by what he sees as local school systems' failure to implement his one-size-fits-all system of standards. It is becoming increasingly clear that instead of rising (as Pastorek predicted) to meet the arbitrary standards set by the state, many students are getting stuck in perpetual remediation until they get old enough or bad enough to drop out of school or go to prison. As I stated in one of my previous posts on this blog: “Louisiana has two tracks for public school students mandated by the state; College Prep and Prison Prep." The implementation of this resolution would make it official.

Beefing up the JAG program without providing a true career oriented training and graduation system for the non-college prep students would be just as much a failure as the GED Options program has been. Pastorek is still not willing to accept the fact that students are all different. They are not made of a uniform raw material like steel or plastic that can be molded into a neat stack of quality controlled widgets!

Implementation of this resolution by BESE would further tie the hands of local Superintendents and School Boards to use funding in the most efficient manner based on the particular characteristics of the local school system. School-based funding is inherently inefficient. It would force school principals who now have their hands more than full in providing instructional leadership to teachers, working for parental involvement, and insuring that their school performs its best in the accountability system to divert their attention to purchasing goods and services and filling out state and federal forms that are much better done at the Central office. Principals are not trained for these mundane but critical chores, and in many cases each school would end up having to hire an accountant or supervisor of finances, causing diversion of funds from instruction.

Concerning the 80% instructional requirement, some of the most successful school systems in the state as measured by the accountability system are now funding instruction at approximately the 70-72% level. Yet the state would disrupt a program that is working well to impose yet another mandate. Some rural school systems or those with court ordered busing have extra non-instructional expenses beyond their control. In addition, the state mandates busing of students to parochial schools.

My advice to Superintendents, School Board members and other professional educators is take the time to discuss this matter with your legislators and remind them that the Governor has proposed reducing the restrictions and mandates on local school systems, not increasing them. This resolution would just add more impractical mandates. If the State Superintendent wants to reform something, let him reform his own Recovery District, which has proven very weak at handling finances, has the lowest graduation rate in the state, and in 2009 had one of the smallest increases in average school performance scores. If this is the model for site based funding, he's proven it does not work.