In Conversation With ...

In Conversation With ...

In Conversation With ... Dr. Tom Shelton, on the new K-12 school funding report

In Conversation With ... Dr. Tom Shelton, on the new K-12 school funding report
Kentucky School Advocate
February 2015 
 
In Conversation With…features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. Dr. Tom Shelton became executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS) on Jan.1, after heading first Daviess County and then Fayette County school districts.
 
As the immediate past president of the Council for Better Education, a consortium of 168 Kentucky public school districts that financed the yearlong study, “Adequacy and Equity for Excellence in Kentucky,” Shelton presented the study’s findings to KASS members at their annual conference in early December.
 
Q: The report “Adequacy and Equity for Excellence in Kentucky” has made headlines because it estimates that it will take another $2.4 billion, on top of the $7 billion spent now, to adequately fund K-12 education in the state.
 
A: We thought about not putting a number in the report because that is just side information, but we also knew people would ask how much it would cost. The real focus of the report is that this is an all-new model for education in Kentucky, not a study of the current funding structure or system.
We started with a prototype, a model of a successful school based on research. We looked at how an elementary school, a middle school and a high school should be staffed and how supplemental support should be provided from the district. We calculated the total costs. In costing out the model, we found it would require $9.4 billion. That is both state and local funds. We are not asking the state to fund an additional $2.4 billion in education; that is not the focus of the report.
 
Q: Explain the difference between Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the report.
 
A: Volume 1 includes the model, all of the research and the comparative state analysis – a comparison of high-performing states as well as states that are considered our peers. In effect, the report says: This is what research on successful schools tells us that needs to happen.
 
Volume 2 includes tables and charts that detail the funding associated with the model. Volume 2 is much smaller, with district-specific numbers. The model is built in Excel so you can go down to the individual school level and see the (funding) impact. We will be posting that information on the CBE website.
 
Q: The model spells out exactly what is required to ensure that students reach proficiency. Could you review these assumptions?
 
A: The first big assumption is universal preschool for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds for the entire state. Also, full funding for kindergarten (currently we receive only half funding); funding based on membership or enrollment instead of attendance; and a reduction in class sizes. In the model, kindergarten through third grade is staffed at 15:1 and fourth grade forward is 25:1. That is a big, big difference compared to the state caps now.
 
The fifth assumption is instructional coaches for all schools. Instructional coaches would work with teachers in development and training to improve the quality of instruction. Sixth is using certified teachers, which is what the model calls tutors and what we call instructional intervention and support beyond basic classroom teachers.
 
Q: Are other assumptions called for?
 
A: Yes. Other assumptions are nursing services, behavioral services and other instructional support services for all schools and additional support services for schools based on three areas of population: students in poverty, English language learners and students with some form of disability. The model expands the definition of poverty to those who qualify for free lunch and reduced-price lunch.
 
In the model, teachers would get 10 professional development days. Currently they get only four. That is a big change; it says that teachers need more time and recognizes that the effectiveness of teachers will determine the achievement level of students.
 
Q: The consultants who prepared this report and model have worked with 11 other states. Does Kentucky’s model look just like the models used in those other states?
 
A: No. We used an advisory council of Kentucky educators and stakeholder panels so that it didn’t look the same as say, Arkansas or Wyoming. We started with a model that was national, and we Kentucky-ized it by using the experience and knowledge of people within our state.
 
Q: You and others have said the report is a valuable planning tool, regardless of whether funding is received. Can you explain?
 
A: The model and its resources can still be used and are viable, even if the schools don’t get another dime. It saves districts a lot of time because they have all the research in one place and a handbook that they can use.
 
Q: Can you give an example of how this could work?
 
A: That is why we did such a long explanation of the model when we presented it, to show how the research can be used. For example, the research shows that instructional coaches have one of the biggest impacts on improving student achievement, so if your district has limited resources and is trying to decide how to best use them, then the model shows that you should choose instructional coaches because of their impact.
 
Another example: Let’s say a district is trying to reduce class size, but it doesn’t have the resources to reduce class size to 15:1. The research says that unless the class size is 15:1 or lower, it is not effective. So if a district is working to lower student-teacher ratio from 24:1 to 21:1, well, that’s good but it has not been proven effective by the research, so maybe the district should use its resources in a different way.
 
Q: Can the report aid school boards in their work?
 
A: Yes. School boards approve staffing. This report has good information for boards to look at as to how schools are staffed. Using the information there, they can look at how their district is using its resources. Good policy decisions could be made based on the research the report provides.
 
Q: What happens next?
 
A: 2015 will be a year of education on the project. We wouldn’t ask the General Assembly to take action before 2016. It wouldn’t be fair to someone in General Assembly or otherwise who hasn’t had adequate time to study this report.
 
Q: How will information about the report be shared with educators, legislators and others?
 
A: We started with school superintendents at KASS in December because they needed to know and understand the model so they could discuss it with their constituencies. Everyone left the conference with copies of the report; the report can also be emailed in PDF format along with the PowerPoint presentation that the consultants used.
 
We anticipate doing sessions at Kentucky School Boards Association meetings and for other regional groups throughout the state.
 
I also hope that superintendents will be having retreats and work sessions with their staff to review the model so they can look at their own district to see how this model would play out and work. Everyone’s implementation will look different. The model is not intended to be prescriptive; the model basically says these are the resources needed for successful schools for all students.
 
Q: Other states have implemented similar models. How have they done so?
 
A: Some have been implemented into law. We don’t know about (doing) that. Some started as a concept bill; in other words, they said ‘We believe conceptually in the model but we don’t have funds’ so they adopt the model in concept, all or in part, and work to fund it over time.
 
Q: You have said it could take five to seven years to implement the model? Why
 
A: Because it would cost $2.4 billion, and there are no additional funds at the state level and limited funds at the local level. It will take time to get to that level of investment.
 
Q: Does the entire model have to be implemented at once?
 
A: We have had discussions: Do you implement the whole model, but only do it at 70 percent and then ramp it up to 100 percent or do you implement the pieces of the model that are priorities? We can cost out each component of the model. So, if we know that preschool has a big impact and the cost is approximately $572 million, maybe we say that is the first priority and then the other components are done over time.
 
Q: How is this approach different than the current approach to funding?
 
A: This report is not meant to say that anyone is doing anything wrong or that SEEK is not appropriate. It is proposing a methodology that everyone would know and understand so we didn’t have to have same discussion all the time. We will be able to say we need more money and what we need the money for and what the impact would be.
 
There is currently no funding model for education in Kentucky. SEEK is an allocation model. It takes the funds that the General Assembly arbitrarily allocates and it allocates the funds among the school districts to provide equity. Our formula is a model that says how much money should be put into education to adequately fund education.
 
Q: You make an interesting point about the difference between equality and equity.
 
A: Equal is not equitable. Students start from different places. We have to make sure resources are equitable based on the needs of students. The analogy I use, told to me by a friend, is “Equal means everybody gets a pair of shoes. Equitable means everyone’s shoes fit.”
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