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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Russell Olson Protects Small Schools, Helps Kill Open Enrollment Penalty

Every now and then, Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Madison) pays attention to the Madville Times and votes right. Today's case in point: Senator Olson joined a majority of his Senate Education Committee colleagues yesterday to kill HB 1150. On a 6–1 vote, the committee sent to 41st day oblivion a bill that would have reduced the amount of state aid smaller schools receive for each student who open enrolls from a larger school district.

Big-city Republicans like R. Blake Curd backed this bill in what can only be seen as an effort to punish small schools for luring students and dollars away from their bigger neighbors. Senator Olson made the right call this time, following the lead of his local Democratic House colleagues Reps. Fargen and Lange to support school choice.


  1. CAH:

    "Big-city Republicans like R. Blake Curd backed this bill in what can only be seen as an effort to punish small schools for luring students and dollars away from their bigger neighbors."

    Please don't start pulling Bob Ellis type moves. There is definitely more than one way to interpret the intent of this bill.

  2. Rep. Lange, your neighbor, was a sponsor of HB1150, so I'm not sure who you feel Sen. Russ Olson was following? HB1150, sponsored by former Madison alum, Deb Peters, would limit the receiving school from gaining the small school factor funding from open enrollees who moved to a small district from larger, unsubsidized districts.

    It's hard to know how a person should feel about this bill, because, while I respect our neighbors, Rutland and Oldham/Ramona and the educational product they put out, it rankles me when they spend those small school factor tax dollars on local advertising, encouraging our students to open enroll into their districts.

    Rep. Deb Peters said students in her West Central (Hartford) district bring in $4800 a year to the school, but the 29 students who have open enrolled to nearby Montrose, provide $5600 each to the Montrose district, once the $800 per student small school factor is added. That's $23,200 extra to the Montrose district, plus the $139,200 the 29 students brought with them and took away from West Central.

    That's like taking a snowball in the face, twice. First, you lose the revenue in your own district, then you have to help pay an extra $800 each to the district who took your kids.

    If area schools didn't spend hard-to-find tax dollars to actively advertise their need for students, so vital for their survival under state education guidelines, the open enrollment issue wouldn't have so much volatility, but when you're trying to rob Peter (or Peters), to pay Paul, it does strike a nerve and that's what is driving support for HB1150.

  3. Rod,

    The kids are the winners when it comes to open enrollment.

  4. Tony, any reminder to not act like Bob Ellis will always be taken seriously. Thank you.

    However, I'll still suggest that I'm having trouble seeing the reasonable alternate interpretations. Look at what Rod says about Rep. Peters's motivations. She doesn't like seeing Montrose get more money for taking West Central's students.

    But wow: 29 kids open enrolling out of West Central? To go to Montrose? I'd love to know what's motivating that big shift. Simple geography? Sports? Academics?

  5. I still stand by the argument that there are legitimate fiscal justifications for this bill. It doesn't make sense to pay more for an identical service. Period. This is a 100% legitimate argument for passage of this bill. (as an aside, as a state employee, if I don't choose the lowest bidder for a service or contract and can't justify my choice on the basis of a superior contract, I can be held criminally liable for my actions! This should be the case for education as well, it's just another state institution.)

    Now, if you can show me that these small schools are providing a superior product, I will happily concede the point and withdraw my argument.

    With regards to motivation, why does that matter? I don't care why the sponsor of the bill brought it forward. I only evaluate the bill based on its merits. A good idea can't be indited due to who came up with it and for what reason.

  6. But it's not the same service, Tony. Your argument is somewhat like saying the only consideration in energy policy ought to be price per BTUs while ignoring lost jobs, dependence on OPEC, lack of diversification and innovation, money going to Iran to fund terrorism, pollution, etc.

    The outputs are not simply or solely ACT scores or student job readiness. Our investment in schools also includes an investment in keeping a variety of communities whole and viable. When we fund Montrose school, we are funding the continued existence of that community, with the economic and cultural anchor that a school provides.

    The market also declares that schools aren't identical services. If they were, why would anyone choose to open enroll? I can't guarantee that every open enrollee is making a good choice or that the schools attracting open enrollees produce better results on whatever metric we might choose to measure educational success, but schools are clearly producing something different enough to motivate people make choices.

    I will agree the motivation doesn't totally determine whether a bill is good. Someone could propose a good bill for jerk reasons. But I haven't heard any good reasons yet that fit with the scope and intent of this bill.

  7. CAH-

    We need clear metrics to define whether or not a policy change is good or bad. In my view, a school educates. That is its function. I can setup clear tests for it and make evaluations based on it. Additionally, there is no question that it's in the public good.

    In you last post, you state that you are adding an addition metric: whether or not the additional funding keeps communities where small schools reside whole and viable. I have several responses:

    1. This bill doesn't eliminate all funding, it just levels it across the board. Honestly, if we're just keeping communities "viable" we should just write them a check for whatever rather than back-dooring it in through some hidden mechanism. This is seriously dishonest.

    2. How do you evaluate this metric? Can you show that this funding efficiently helps these communities? Can you even define such a test?

    Next, you make the claim that these small schools are providing something desirable which causes students to switch and therefore, because the free market is never wrong, that justifies the additional funding. I have several responses:

    1. What if a school offered free soda throughout the day to their students and that was the only difference between schools. Do you believe that paying additional money for the free soda service is good policy? I certainly hope not. Now, if we didn't pay additional money for these students, I wouldn't care. Let the students and parents decide so long as it's not costing me more for a superfluous service!

    2. You accept that there is no evidence that small schools provide a superior product. Until you can show evidence otherwise, it's unreasonable to assume they do. WHY should we pay more for an identical service?

    With regards to your last paragraph, why should this bill pass; we have a budget short fall. We are in a recession. We shouldn't pay more for the same thing. It's fiscally irresponsible. If we had a massive budget surplus, I would be completely in favor of spending our excess on providing more choice regardless of specific evidence. But we're not and as such I can't justify it.

  8. But level funding across the board doesn't reflect economic realities. Small schools in small communities require more money per student to operate. Level funding undermines small schools and small communities. There's no back-door required here: we're sending the ed funding right through the front door, right toward the costs we're addressing.

    On school soda: indeed, I grant the possibility that some schools may lure kids and parents with things other than excellent academic standards. Some schools may win open enrollees by mere geography: the school is closer, Mom works in that town, whatever. But if we believe in school choice (and I do!), we may do better to just let parents choose by their own metrics than to impose state preferences on them. The funding formula isn't about performance; it's about the cost of operation.

    I'd evaluate the metric of community success in the same non-governmental way: if people choose to keep living and working there, the community is "succeeding." As long as the community exists, we as a state have an obligation to the fellow citizens who choose to live there to provide basic services (roads, education, HP).


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