Report Begs Question: Why did Colo. SB 213 Neglect Performance-Based Funding?

The list of substantive reforms ignored by backers of SB 213 and the billion-dollar statewide tax hike continues to grow. Today it’s the idea of Performance-Based Funding (PBF), promoted in a brief new Lexington Institute paper. Noting that Florida, Michigan, and Arizona have undertaken steps in this direction, the authors note:

What all these efforts have in common is the recognition that the current practice of funding schools based almost exclusively on attendance taken several times a year is a fundamentally flawed model that misaligns incentives, rewards sub-par performance, and diminishes the imperative for significant and sustained educational outcomes.

So why didn’t the School Finance Partnership that led to SB 213 and the tax hike take on a truly innovative, even transformational, idea like this one?

In March 2012, two experts on a national panel convened here in Denver to review the Partnership’s original work noted the desperate need to connect school funding formulas to student results:

Interestingly, I found a key Colorado connection to the Lexington report: co-author Doug Mesecar not only held senior roles in the U.S. Department of Education and Congress but also “attended the University of Denver, where he completed graduate work in education and earned his teacher license,” and “taught 5th grade in the Jefferson County School system in Colorado.” He got his start as a classroom instructor in Colorado’s largest school district, and today advocates for major reform. (Sounds like someone else I know.)

Anyway, Mesecar and Don Soifer address one chief objection to a PBF system that allocates some share of funds to schools based on their demonstrated ability to improve learning:

A significant concern is ensuring that a PBF model does not provide any disincentive for schools to serve the students who need them most. The student progress metric used by the [District of Columbia Public Charter School Board] is one way to account for student performance growth, which acts as a counter-weight to absolute performance and can account for students who are significantly behind. And, by looking at growth longitudinally, as the DCPCSB does, there is further protection against ignoring the students furthest behind or penalizing schools who serve these students. An alternative approach is the one taken by Arizona, whereby schools that are lower on the grading scale can get increased funding even if they are not yet in the A – C school grade range.

Even so, Colorado clearly is not at the forefront of school finance reform. Nothing in the legislation that would be funded by the billion-dollar tax increase ensures funds help raise academic performance or rewards schools and districts with exceptional performance accordingly — not high test scores necessarily, but evidence of significantly and broadly raising student achievement.

Apparently, that was too much to ask. Let’s just be honest about what the tax proposal really would fund: Mostly more of the same.