'Reverse Robin Hood'

By Nyssa Rabinowitz

Snyder’s achievement-based funding plan could hurt poorer school districts

Thursday, Dec. 22 — Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to link
school funding with student achievement could be disastrous for already
under-funded districts, says an
executive of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

“I don’t think
there’s mal-intent to the plan to pay for performance, I just think it might be
counter-productive,” said Peter Spadafore, assistant director of government
relations. Spadafore was also elected in November to the Lansing Board of
Education, where he will have to deal with the difficulties of school funding
for a struggling district first hand.

Spadafore.JPGSnyder’s plan, reported Tuesday by The Associated Press, has
yet to identify how to reward student achievement with funding, but Spadafore has
concerns that poor districts like Lansing could continue to face hardships
while richer districts with more resources are rewarded with more funding.

“It’s sort of like the reverse Robin Hood,” Spadafore said,
“taking the money from the districts of the have-nots and putting it into the
coffers of the haves.”

Many of the state’s poorest districts made drastic cuts to balance
their budgets in lieu of state funding such as increasing the number of
children in a classroom, cutting teachers and eliminating specialized programs,
Spadafore said. These decisions could have a negative effect on student learning
and student achievement could fall further.

“The school buildings and the school districts on the lower
achieving list arguably need some further assistance,” Spadafore said. “Under
this plan, it doesn’t sound like those would be targeted for further

That could mean more cuts for poor districts such as Lansing’s
if funding levels remain at current levels, he said.

“If Lansing was expecting an increase in state aid for this
year but that money is going to a specialized program, that money won’t go to
the district,” Spadafore said. “It means that the cuts from last year, which
were huge from the state, we’re going to have to continue to deal with those at
a local level.”

Snyder’s ideas could translate into positive strategies to
promote improvement, Spadafore said, but tying funding to student achievement
is unique.

“When you look at mostly performance funding, you talk about
it at the teacher level or the building level,” he said.

Public school funding has normally been on a per pupil
basis, where each district receives a certain amount of money based on how many
students are enrolled, Spadafore said. Historically, achievement levels have
not factored into funding.

But Spadafore’s concerns could be misplaced, he admitted.

“If we’re going to say only those that are doing well right
now get additional funding, that’s counter-productive,” he said. “But if you’re
looking at ways to award progress, that could be worth exploring.”

Despite the plan’s potential, Spadafore
said the lack of research on student achievement based funding systems gives
him more concerns than hope.

“We have a lot of folks trying ideas that are not based in
research,” Spadafore said. “We never know what the impact is going to be.”