Tuesday, October 14, 2003

School-funding study to include Washington

Seattle, WA - Jacob Adams speaks with the Seattle Times about Washington State involvement in school finance study.

Originally published in the Seattle Times, October 13, 2003

By Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff reporter

In one of the largest school-finance studies to date, a team of 15 researchers will spend the next four years looking closely at school spending in Washington and three other states.

The effort, aimed at helping retool the nation's school-finance systems, will be funded primarily with a $5.2 million grant made yesterday by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Jacob Adams, a research associate professor at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs will lead the study.

"We are in a very large, new era in school finance and public education because we are focused on outcomes," said Adams. "We're trying to understand how to retool the system so that the dollars fit better with the performance expectations we have now."

The researchers, who come from across the country, will explore questions such as:

  • How can districts motivate experienced, talented teachers to stay in the most challenging schools?
  • How much more money should be spent on students who live in poverty, or who don't speak English, than on students without such needs?
  • Do schools have the flexibility to spend money in ways that maximize student achievement?

The researchers believe the nation's $360 billion funding system for public schools needs change because it "hasn't been set up to link dollars to learning," Adams said.

Instead, he said, it's based more on compliance than performance, with a focus on ensuring an equitable distribution of dollars and on seeing that districts and schools spend money in the ways they're allowed to.

Equity in funding — and ensuring that schools receive adequate funding — remain important, Adams said, but the researchers want to add performance to the picture.

The project's goal, he said, is to judge education spending by what it achieves, just as students and schools are being judged more by what they achieve.

To do that, he said the researchers first need to be able to explain how money is spent, which often is not easy to do.

"The more people know about where the dollars go and how they're used ... the more they'll have the ability to change how they're used to improve student performance," he said.

Researchers aren't starting with assumptions about whether schools get enough money.

"We don't know going in whether schools need more money, the same amount of money, or less money," Adams said.

The project will include 10 different studies in the next four years. They will look at private schools as well as public ones in the four states: Washington, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. The states were chosen, Adams said, because they are committed to education reform or are wrestling with school-finance issues.

The researchers will develop new ideas and approaches to offer to policy-makers and educators, as well as study the feasibility of their recommendations.

The researchers must raise an additional $1.5 million.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359

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