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Financial Accountability – A Game Changer

Article by Patrick Kobler February 14, 2014 //   4 minute read

Yesterday, the Bush Center hosted leading national experts in education productivity for the Institute for Public School Initiatives’ 4th Annual Productivity Forum.  Among the experts who presented were authors of the Bush Institute’s Productivity for Results Series, published earlier this week.

What does productivity mean for schools and the taxpayers who fund them?  To quote former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who is now president of the Bush Center, it is “getting the most bang for the buck” by funding public education in the most fiscally efficient manner.

Charles Miller – a key member of our Advisory Council for Education - presented his proposal to boost efficiency through financial accountability.  To paraphrase Miller, financial accountability entails timely and transparent annual reports from public schools and districts on how funding decisions ultimately impact student success.  “Financial accountability would be a game changer,” Miller said, liking it to the positive impact academic accountability has had on students.

If you are a taxpayer (or if you will be one day), game changers like Miller’s proposed financial accountability system should, at the very least, warrant your attention. Your tax dollars are being used to fund schools that are half the quality for double the price. 

Expert presenters Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute and Michael J. Podgursky, author of Reforming Educator Compensation, expanded on this notion during the Productivity Forum.  Highlights included:

  • Since the 1970s, the per-student cost for a public school education has doubled, while student performance has stagnated;
  • Annually, the average per pupil cost for public school is higher than the cost of most private schools. Yet the average performance of students attending public school is significantly lower than their private school peers;
  • Many major urban public school districts, including in New York, Washington D.C. and New Jersey, spend more per pupil than the cost of tuition for some top-tier universities;
  • A student who receives a private school voucher will perform equal to or greater than their public school counterparts, but at a lower cost; and
  • Rigid, uniform salary schedules make it increasingly difficult to fill teacher vacancies in math, the sciences and special education. The inflexible schedules reward teachers without regard to subject-area expertise and/or performance.  Our public schools need to pay more attention to the law of supply and demand.

Even when considering factors such as socioeconomic status, the disparity between spending and quality in public schools makes it clear: We need a game changer.  

Bush Institute Fellow Sandy Kress reinforced the importance of accountability in ensuring fiscal efficiency. Using his research from A Legal Lever for Enhancing Productivity, Kress asserted teacher evaluations should align to statewide education goals.

In Texas, for example, current policies do not align teacher evaluations or teacher dismissal practices  to the Texas Constitution’s goal of creating a “diffusion of knowledge.” Kress contends this is one example of how policies are not linked to statewide educational goals. When that happens, there will not be an efficient use of financial resources. But if goals are aligned from the state capital to the local school, productivity can be maximized.

The main walk-away from the conference was that a strong sense of financial accountability can help public schools overcome a myriad of fiscal inefficiencies. In turn, that will help them become more productive. There are many ways to reach that end, which is why we encourage you to follow the Productivity for Results Series. Also, check back later for Bill McKenzie’s take on the conference and making schools more productive.