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Ten Ideas to Fix Cleveland's Schools

Reason Foundation | by Lisa Snell | September 23, 2011

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District suffers from severe financial and academic issues. The district has a $53 million deficit for the 2010-2011 school year, has lost close to 40,000 students over the last ten years to middle class flight and the more than 25,000 city students attending charter schools and using school vouchers for private schools, has a 54 percent high school graduation rate, and has close to 75 percent of its schools listed under academic emergency or "watch." These are the two lowest categories on the state rankings of academic indicators, such as test scores, by the state of Ohio. Clearly Cleveland's schools need improvement. Here are ten specific suggestions to help fix Cleveland schools.

1. Make Every Failing School a Charter School. In Cleveland six of the top ten schools are charter schools. With so many schools failing so miserably, Cleveland should replace the district-based system in these underperforming schools with a fluid, self-improving system of charter schools. Cleveland should follow New Orleans' example. In Education Week, Leslie R. Jacobs and Paul Vallas argue that autonomy, budget control and school choice are driving school improvement in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina

4. Implement Student-Based Budgeting. In support of decentralized schools, Cleveland should create one simple funding mechanism that distributes federal, state and local funding based on a "student-based budgeting." This financing system would include one base allocation equalized across all of the schools in the district and additional weighted funds for students with additional needs such as special education, poverty or English learners. This process would make school finance simpler, more equitable and bring significant cost savings by reducing central office costs and redirecting some of this savings to increase per-pupil funding allocations in the classroom. At least 15 major school districts including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Hawaii and New York City have implemented student-based budgeting whereby the money follows students into schools.

5. Send Schools Money, Not Staff. Schools should receive revenue in the same way that the district receives revenue, on a per-pupil basis reflecting the enrollment at a school and the individual characteristics of students at each school. The current staffing model is a very inefficient way to fund schools and creates serious inequities between schools. For example, if under a district staffing model a school receives one administrator for each 300 students, a school with 300 students and a school with 599 students would receive the equivalent resources for that staffing position. However, if schools receive budgets based on dollars related to per-pupil funding, it gives school principals the money that each student generates and allows principals to more efficiently allocate revenue and staff. This also helps as school enrollments decrease or increase. The staffing model is a very inefficient method to allocate resources as student populations change over time. For example, a staffing model cannot easily reallocate teachers as enrollment changes from one school to another. However, principals can individually assess their staffing needs and allocate staff to fit the enrollment conditions at each individual school.

Filed Under : K-12 Education

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