As a young boy, I recall my grandpa’s tradition of giving my brother and me a quarter whenever it was time for us to leave. This gift was typically followed by a witty comment–something like, “don’t say I never gave you anything” or “don’t spend it all in the same place.”
This seems to be the general mindset of our state legislature and Department of Education when it comes to funding education reforms. Even when the amount of money sent to schools is woefully inadequate, the attitude seems to be we should be thankful for whatever we get.
As the cartoon below illustrates, it is becoming increasingly difficult to juggle all of the many state mandates while the funding “rug” is slowly yet methodically pulled out from under our feet.
For many years, Oklahoma public schools have been promised additional revenues to meet a variety of mandates passed by our state legislature. In most cases, the mandates were enacted into law yet the associated funding never seemed to materialize.
A classic example of this is the 2006 Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) legislation. As you know, the intent of this law was to increase the rigor of a Oklahoma high school education by requiring students to demonstrate mastery in specified subject areas by scoring proficient or advanced on the associated End-of-Instruction (EOI) exams.
To this day, in order to graduate from a public high school with a standard diploma, students MUST pass the Algebra I and English II EOI exams as well as two of the remaining five subject tests in Geometry, Algebra II, US History, English III, and Biology.
An important piece of the original ACE legislation is the requirement for schools to provide remediation for students scoring below proficient on 7th and 8th grade math and reading OCCTs and any of the seven high school EOIs.
According to the OSDE webpage:
Some examples of how districts might offer remediation include: extra classes during the day, tutoring before or after school, tutoring at lunch or during homeroom, online programs, computer software, summer school, and Saturday school. These opportunities are designed to help students pass the tests required so that they can graduate on time.
Districts will be provided with ACE Remediation Funds based on the number of students who qualify for remediation. Allocations are made on a per-student basis. Allocation and payment notices are sent to the respective school districts prior to September 1 of each year.
The amount per student for those scoring Unsatisfactory is up to a maximum of $240.
The amount per student for those scoring Limited Knowledge is up to a maximum of $180.
Several members of the original ACE task force warned that the investment of remediation dollars was critical to the long-term success of the legislation. Without additional funding to support district and school remediation programs, many students would simply not get the extra assistance they needed to make up their academic gaps. As a result, more students would fail the EOIs and our dropout rate would increase.
One early estimate was that is would cost about $77 million a year for remediation. Of course, the legislature has never appropriated even half this amount. However, in the early years of implementation (2009 and 2010), the remediation budget per student was significantly higher than it is today. Increases to cut scores over the past few years has caused thousands of additional students to qualify for remediation.
Are you curious how much the state believes districts need to remediate a student who could be one to several years below grade level academically?
For this year, the OSDE has provided a whopping $42.24 for every student scoring limited knowledge and $56.32 for an unsatisfactory score.
Oh, and don’t spend it all at the same place!
These figures represent a measly 23.46% of the maximum levels set forth in the original legislation shown above ($180 and $240 respectively). Yes, I recognize those are maximums, but we are nowhere close to funding the real costs associated with remediating tens of thousands of students across Oklahoma.
For my middle school, this represents about $14,000 in additional funding to provide required remediation for nearly 280 students.
This is not enough to hire additional staff, so our efforts will focus primarily on after school programs and some limited instructional materials. This amount is far from enough to adequately serve these students.
It’s like giving a dollar to a hungry man along with a menu to Red Lobster. There is nothing he can select that will adequately satiate his hunger. It would likely just make him angry.
I suppose the man could use our dollar to go to McDonalds and pick up a sausage biscuit, but this will not sustain him for very long. He will wake up hungry again tomorrow.
In reality, the ridiculously small amount of remediation funding does not allow schools to hire additional teachers, purchase technology, staff summer programs or implement research-based instructional programs that might actually make a dent in state remediation rates. We are being set up to fail and so are our students.
If we truly believe that ACE is a worthwhile initiative for our state, our legislature must commit the resources to enable schools to support our students. Holding students accountable for passing these tests while failing to provide adequate funding is unethical and wrong. If we are not going to fund ACE in accordance with the original legislative intent, the law should be repealed.
Schools cannot continue to improve while pinching pennies to the point of absurdity.
We must do better than this because our children’s future depends on it.