NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Schools Promise Improved Performance To Get Funds

October 29, 1999

States and local school districts are trying a new tactic to cajole voters into approving higher funding for education. They are making promises of future improved performance. "To pass a school-tax increase now," says Stanford University education professor Michael Kirst, "you have to have a reform package -- describe it as raising achievement."

Whether voters, frustrated and irate over students' sagging test scores, will buy into such plans remains to be seen.

  • Voters in Jefferson County, Colo. -- which includes Denver -- are being asked to approve a ballot initiative which ties future increases in school funding to improvements in student test scores.
  • A similar measure is being presented to voters in nearby Colorado Springs.
  • Florida is attacking lagging teacher performance by giving out vouchers to students in public schools which are deemed failures -- and as many as 65,000 children in 80 schools may be eligible for them next year.
  • In order to hold their universities accountable, 13 states base funding at least in part on an array of performance indicators -- including graduation rates, pass rates for students taking the bar and other professional exams, and even the faculty's success in attracting research grants.

Douglas Bruce, who is a leading opponent of the ballot proposition in Colorado Springs, reasons that if student performance improves with more money, it shows that the schools "are holding back now, and so we would be rewarding people for doing less than their best." If performance doesn't improve, it shows "they're already doing their best and money isn't going to do anything."

The two Colorado ballot measures are supported by teachers unions, real-estate agents and most businesses, but even they concede that they face a tough fight to sell the guarantees to the public. Colorado Springs voters approved a $100 million bond issue three years ago, promising to improve scores within five years. The district doesn't face a penalty if it doesn't meet that promise, and with two years to go, it hasn't.

Source: June Kronholz, "Colorado School Districts Promise to Make the Grade," Wall Street Journal, October 29, 1999.


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