Posted in Carlsbadistan.com
Carlsbad school officials worry that if voters don’t agree to a tax
increase on November 6, a midyear budget reduction could lead to cutting
the school year by up to three weeks. But a greater threat to local
schools in the long run hangs on the outcome of the Presidential
Mitt Romney has announced a plan to “restore the promise of American
education” by promoting choice and innovation. Titled, “A Chance for
Every Child,” it signals a retreat from the goal of No Child Left
Behind. A chance is not a promise. Romney’s vow to use federal funds to
support school choice, rather than school improvement, will produce
winners and losers. That’s a far cry from the role of public education
as a springboard of equal opportunity for upward mobility.
Romney also believes school reform can be done on the cheap,
evidenced by his claim class size doesn’t matter. He’s fond of quoting a
2007 McKinsey report, “How the World’s best performing school systems
come out on top.” The consultants claim studies show good teachers are
more important than smaller classes. To that earth-shattering discovery
my response can only be, “well…duh!”But
that’s not the point.
The McKinsey report refers to evidence from a 1997
study in Tennessee showing reducing class sizes from 23 to 15 students
improved the performance of an average student by only 8 percentile
points, while good teachers showed an impact of up to 50 percentile
points when the achievement of two 8 year-old students was compared.
Fast forward now to the Carlsbad School District’s 2012-13 budget
that sets student-to-teacher ratios at 32 for elementary schools and 39
for the high school. To a former teacher who once complained about
having to teach American Literature to as many as 35 in a class of high
school juniors, Romney’s claim that class size doesn’t matter is as
scary as his plan to bring a competitive free market to public
Although he doesn’t bother with details, here’s how Romney describes
the plan. The $25 billion the feds currently give public schools to
serve low-income families (Title 1) and students with disabilities
(IDEA, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act), would be
“portable,” allowing the student to choose from any district or public
charter school or private school or to use the funds for hiring a tutor
or provider of online instruction. It would require states to allow open
enrollment, so students could choose schools outside of their local
Here’s how Romney’s redistribution of federal funds might work in Carlsbad.
The district received $2.7 million from the feds in Title 1 and IDEA
funding in 2011-12. The district reports it enrolls 1,133 students with
disabilities. Based on the number of economically disadvantaged students
taking STARS tests, I estimate there are about 2,500 low-income
students who would qualify for Title 1 funding.
Assuming some overlap in students who have disabilities and are low
income, a fair estimate is that the number eligible for “portability”
under Romney’s plan would come to about 3,000 students.
If the $2.7 million of the district’s current federal dollars are
divided by the 3,000 students eligible to take their share and shop for
another school, it comes to $900 per student. The per-pupil expense in
the Carlsbad School District budget is $7,000. The tuition for
Carlsbad’s newest private school, Pacific Ridge School, is $24,600.
The bottom line for Romney’s plan is that it abandons our country’s
commitment for all public schools to serve all students. The money
transferred from school to school would be insufficient to serve the
needs of those its intended for, and the schools they leave would be hit
with budget cuts that hurt the students who remain.
It calls to mind a U.S. Army major’s sad justification for civilian
deaths after the bombing of a North Vietnam village: “It became
necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” Romney’s education
plan is equally ironic. He justifies the abandonment of public schools
to save public education.
And that’s why Carlsbad school officials should care about the Presidential election as much as the vote on state tax increases.