At the last meeting of the joint House-Senate Select Committee on School Finance, several legislators pushed for the creation of a “work group” made up of non-legislators to make recommendations on school-finance reforms. Today that work group, made up of superintendents and business leaders (some of them appointees to the select committee, some summoned to the capitol separately) met at the state capitol for much of the day to see what they could agree on. In light of their discussion, we expect them to recommend increases in funding “weights” that steer extra dollars to schools with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners. We also heard them agree (we think) on the notion of doing away with state competitive grants and running most if not all state revenue through the formulas that are supposed to reflect variations in costs among different types of districts and among different types of students. Also stressed was the need for local school boards to regain some discretionary ability to raise revenue locally.
Several of the superintendents in the “work group” also are using it to push the idea of “mandate relief.” In their parlance, this idea includes weakening class-size limits and moving away from seniority-based salary steps–even though state law already provides wide latitude for waivers of class-size caps and even though the salary-step schedule is primarily a matter of local policy, not state law. We can count on hearing more of this “mandate relief” rhetoric in a session where key legislative leaders will be pushing for cuts in education funding.