50 Ways To Save Money in the Education Budget
Yeah, I'm ripping off the EFF. So sue me.
A nice thing about Assembly Days for the legislature last week was that you see everything that's going on around education, from the PESB to the SBE to the QEC to the OSPI. It's difficult to keep track of--I don't know, frankly, how my friend the education staffer does it--but for education wonks and education hobbyists, it's fun stuff.
Anyhow, all the conversation about cutting education makes one wonder just what could be cut. I did a little playing around with the idea in April, when things were last going to hell, but I think it's worth bringing up again.
First stop: the enacted state budget, beginning on page 123.
Idea #1: Suspend development of the new finance system. I'm not saying throw all the work that's been done away, but is there any reason that it can't sit on a hard drive at OFM for a year until things maybe start getting better? Savings: $941,000.
Idea #2: Put aside the alternative pipeline programs at the PESB. These are the paras-to-teachers pipeline programs, alternative certification programs, and the conversion math teacher loans. All of them are good programs in a shortage, but we're laying people off--the market doesn't need these programs. Savings: $4,501,000 (I'm blending together subsections i and ii on page 124).
Idea #3: Suspend the Recruiting Washington Teachers Program. Same rationale as above--it's not needed right now. Savings: $231,000.
Idea #4: Suspend the Retooling Math/Science Educators Program. I'd be willing to bend on this if there was still a demonstrable need, I suppose, but in this economy I'm doubtful. Savings: $244,000.
Idea #5: Suspend CEDARS. This is the new data management system, and while I really like how it's coming together and the potential it has for the future, there's no reason it can't wait for a year. Savings: $1,227,000.
Idea #6: Don't put extra into teaching financial literacy to students. Yes, the lessons matter, but "practice what you preach" is a pretty good lesson to teach, too. Savings: $75,000.
Idea #7: Suspend the Interstate Compact on the Military Child. This one hurts to even suggest, because these are my kids--my school is 90%+ the sons and daughters of active duty servicemembers. The trick is that many of your school districts that serve military installations also are heavily into levy equalization money, and if this "macro" cut helps at the "micro" level, we have to do that. Savings: $45,000.
Idea #8: Suspend implementation of SB5410 (On-Line Learning). There's no reason that this can't wait until a different year. Savings: $700,000.
Idea #9: Eliminate Project Citizen. Good goals, not worth the money right now. Savings: $25,000.
Idea #10: Suspend School Safety Training. Training is important, but try to find a cheaper way. Savings: $100,000.
Idea #11: Eliminate the School Safety Center at OSPI. This would also have the happy side-effect of eliminating another state board (The School Safety Center Advisory Committee), which fits in with where we're trying to go in streamlining government. Savings: $96,000.
Idea #12: Cut funding for suicide prevention programs. This isn't an easy call to make. This is what the Governor means when she says that the cuts will hurt. But it's an open question as to whether the program works, and in these times....you have to. Savings: $70,000.
Idea #13: No more leadership training from the Institute for Community Leadership. Savings: $50,000.
Idea #14: Money for the technology to make CEDARS happen. There's absolutely no reason we can't wait a year for this. Savings: $1,045,000.
Idea #15: End the Special Services Pilot Project. They never should have started it to begin with. Savings: $1,329,000.
Idea #16: No more money for the Washington Achievers program. Savings: $750,000.
Idea #17: No more money for information about women during World War II. Being someone's pet project shouldn't make it a legislative priority. Savings: $25,000.
Idea #18: Eliminate Navigation 101. It's a decent curriculum that has a lot of district support, but there's no reason we can't go back to it when times are better. Savings: $3,220,000.
Idea #19: End dropout prevention programs. Research says this will cost us more money in the long run. Research also says that we can put a cost to this line item RIGHT NOW. Savings: $675,000.
Idea #20: End the initiative to reach out to Latino families. This was a partnership with the Seattle Community Coalition of Compana Quetzal, and they're just going to have to find their own way for a year. Savings: $50,000.
Idea #21: End the program to encourage bilingual students to go into teaching. Ideally every teacher would be bilingual. These aren't ideal times. Savings: $75,000.
Idea #22: End the dyslexia pilot program. Dyslexia has turned into a catch-all for 100 other reading difficulties, and this is a need that could be better met through federal Reading First dollars, Title funds, or other avenues. Savings: $145,000.
Idea #23: Stop the support of vocational student leadership organizations. I love the Future Farmers and Future Business Leaders and Future Whatever the Homemakers Are Calling Themselves Now, but they may have to find their own way. Savings: $97,000.
Idea #24: End the Communities in School Program in Pierce County. It's not basic education, and if Pierce County schools really need this, that's what levy dollars are for. Savings: $25,000.
Idea #25: Enough of the Math/Science work out of the ESDs. My hunch is that a lot of this money is going towards LASER, which has been one of the biggest time-wasters that I've ever encountered in my 10 years in the classroom. I truly don't believe that they have their act together; this cut seems common sense. Savings: $3,355,000.
Idea #26: End support for Destination: Imagination and Future Problem Solving. They're great programs--I worked with DI for about a decade before my schedule got to busy, and I've been a DI coach--but we can't afford this. Savings: $90,000.
Idea #27: End support for the Centrum Program at Fort Worden Park. I know nothing about this, beyond what it says in the state budget. Savings: $170,000.
Idea #28: Halt funding of math and science coaches. This money comes out of the Education Legacy Trust, so it's not general fund money, but it's the thought that counts. Savings: $1,925,000.
Idea #29: Postpone OSPI's STEM initiative. This pays for grants for 20 teachers and staff at OSPI to supervise; now is not the time. Savings: $139,000.
Idea #30: Cut funding for LASER. Oh, look, it's a line item just for my favorite science program! Lock the kits in a warehouse for a year and move on. Savings: $1,579,000.
Idea #31: No leadership academy for principals and superintendents. This has been one of the Association of Washington School Principals' big projects; in fact, they recently got a nice fat sole source personal service contract with OSPI to run the thing. This is a nice idea when things are flush--we can't afford it now. Savings: $900,000.
Idea #32: Eliminate the Washington State Reading Corps. This hurts, but it has to be done. Savings: $1,056,000.
Idea #33: Eliminate the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning. Savings: $225,000.
Idea #34: Cut back on OSPI technology leadership. This is a line item for improving, monitoring, promoting, and coordinating technology; it sounds like one big support program. Savings: $1,959,000.
Idea #35: Suspend National Boards bonuses for a year. Yeah, I said it. I have all the respect in the world for the people who go through the progress, and I believe that it's thorough--one of the most respected teachers in my district just tried and didn't get over the line, which is amazing to me. The point is that, reform efforts be damned, we simply can't afford this right now. Savings: $36,513,000.
Idea #36: Suspend the Local Farms-Healthy Kids program. I'm married to a farmer, and I think the state stinks when it comes to supporting agriculture most of the time, but a lot of this money went into creating yet another FTE at OSPI. Again and ideally, we'd be able to have this. Right now? Savings: $300,000.
Idea #37: Suspend the Beginning Educator Support Program (BEST). Here's the trick--since beginning educators are the first ones out the door in a financial crisis, is it better to support them and then fire them, or let them work? Savings: $2,348,000.
Idea #38: End the state funded internship program for principals and superintendents. Right now I don't perceive that these jobs go lacking for qualified applicants, and if districts have quality candidates who they want to support as they get their internships done that can be accomplished using local dollars. Savings: $530,000.
Idea #39: Lower the state funding for administrators by $1,000. Right now the state only funds about $59,000 of the cost per administrator, which is a terribly outdated formula. That said, the rest of the money comes from local funds, so let's allow local districts to make the decision: do they come up with the money, or do they ask their administrators to take a haircut? Teachers are losing the LID days, after all. Savings, based on about 5,000 school administrators: $5,000,000.
That's 39 ideas from the most recently enacted K-12 budget alone, and I didn't even touch everything there. Some of these may have already happened (I thought I heard, for example, that the WWII women's project didn't go through), and some of them are damnably shameful (cutting funding for Destination: Imagination would be a tragedy), but the discussion has to occur.
Next up, playing with the Personal Service Contract (PSC) listings at the OFM website. This is money already spent, but I think it drives the point home that we could be doing things differently. I've listed them as "potential savings" instead of "savings", because the contracts are already signed.
Idea #40: Teach someone at OSPI how to read blogs: In July they issued a $15,000 PSC to a Washington DC consulting firm to track what's happening at the federal level. Can no one at OSPI do that now? Isn't there some sort of education department over there that tracks these things? Potential savings: $15,000.
Idea #41: Don't pay for crap like this. "Contractor shall communicate a vision for hands-on, project-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) curriculum, and promote the benefits and positive impacts of technology-rich learning environments attuned to the new digital learner." Bullshit bingo: succeed! Budget reality: failure. Potential savings: $12,000.
Idea #42: Put the Bylsma School Reform Plan on hold. Pete Bylsma's a nice guy--I've met him through WERA a couple of times--but we've already given him an awful lot of money to come up with his plan to fix failing schools, and now we're in line to give him $65,000 more. That's not OK. Potential savings: $65,000.
Idea #43: Price your meeting facilitators better. On page 38 you've got someone making $2,400 to facilitate a two day meeting. Why? Hell, that may not have even included expenses. Potential savings: $2,400.
Idea #44: Write your own damned reports. "The Contractor shall research if the two incentives for attaining National Board certification and serving challenging schools make a difference in the mobility, distribution, and retention patterns among the National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) compared to teachers with similar characteristics that teach in schools with similar characteristics and do not obtain this certification." There's no one on the state government payroll, be it OSPI, OFM, WSIPP, or whatever, that can do this? Potential savings: $80,000. (source)
Idea #45: No, really--write your own damned reports. "The Contractor shall analyze 2008 graduates’ course-taking patterns in high school and their enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges." Offered without comment: that particular contract went to the BERC Group. Potential savings: $30,000.
Idea #46: Avoid the appearance of impropriety. A $251,240 sole-source PSC look funny on its face--when you're giving it to the Washington Association of School Administrators, a group that's heavily involved in the consequences of the school reform debate happening right now, it's proper to raise an eyebrow.
And ideas that I can't put a cost savings to:
Idea #47: Take another look at school district consolidation. Sure, it's the same drum I've been pounding for a while, but it's being taken up by more and more states around the country. Why not take a closer look at it for Washington State? Potential savings: depends on how you do it.
Idea #48: Freeze the state salary schedule. There was a rumor running around late last session that the legislature was seriously considering this, and it just might be the right thing to do. Sure, we teachers wouldn't get our step and lane increases, but on the other hand it could save jobs and have the happy side effect we wouldn't go backwards. Potential savings: millions of dollars.
Idea #49: Don't make membership in the Washington State School Directors Association mandatory. This also came up last session, but the time is ripe to revisit it, especially since the WSSDA just put a dues increase in front of their members. The timing couldn't be worse. Potential savings: varies by district; dues depend on size, and the district would have to opt-out.
Idea #50: Take a closer look at OSPI personal service contracts. Go here and marvel at the number of $100,000+ a year contracts that OSPI is giving out to support the school improvement efforts. Sure, they're paid out of Title I Part A, but is there no room to pay some of these folks $90,000 (still more than any teacher makes!) instead of $110,000? How competitive are these grants, anyhow?