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A State Primer for Transformation

State policymakers have the power to unlock billions of educational dollars.  Restructuring Resources for High Performing Schools: A Primer for State Policy Makers, released today by Education Resource Strategies, identifies the very real barriers to using people, time, money, and technology well in today’s public schools systems and outlines alternatives to the deep and harmful cuts districts are making to staff, professional development, technology and other key programs needed for reform and transformation.

Dollars Locked in the Current System
With shrinking funds, school leaders are abandoning any hard-fought investments in transformation, because the dollars can no longer be found within the current system.  Resources are tied up by state and local policies, legislation, and contractual obligations that are not sustainable - rigid class size and teacher-student ratios, special education policies, and escalating salary and benefit plans.  ERS’s experience with districts has revealed a myriad of barriers to productive resource use and the importance of working with decision-makers at the policy level – state legislatures and union representatives – to lift constraints on spending.  In the paper we articulate how state policy makers can take action to help districts and school leaders make the most of limited resources.

What States Can Do Now
Policy makers can begin by focusing on priorities relating to teacher compensation and effectiveness, special education, state funding, and data reporting. 

  • Eliminate class size requirements to free billions of dollars currently tied up in rigid staffing ratios and allow more flexible student grouping.
  • Restructure teacher compensation to reward current job contribution, ease tenure and dismissal requirements, and reduce unsustainable salary increases and pension obligations.
  • Use early intervention approaches and revise funding formulas to help dramatically reduce special education spending, improve accountability, and meet the needs of struggling students.
  • Combine state categorical funding streams and eliminate mandates that require specific staffing levels or delivery models that do not have funding attached to them.
  • Encourage weighted student funding systems to avoid wide discrepancies in per pupil spending across schools.
  • Shift funding rules and systems away from specifying inputs including specific positions, time requirements, or instructional models towards creating accountability around outcomes. 
  • Propose more meaningful district reporting measures to aid decisions around resource use.

Dictating how districts must spend resources is often at odds with effective daily instruction, especially when those mandates command significant and precious dollars.  With the right objectives, policies, and performance measures, states can place resource decisions in the hands of those school leaders who best know the needs of their students and provide the support to help them get there.

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