Large School Funding Bill Introduced in North Dakota

At its final meeting on October 15, 2014, the North Dakota Interim Education Funding Committee approved a bill to provide the largest increase in K-12 education funding in the state’s history, drawing on recommendations from the Picus Odden and Associates 2014 Recalibration Report conducted for the Committee.  The bill would hike the state’s foundation per pupil amount by $390 to $9,482 for 2015-16 and another $390 to $9,766 in 2016-17.  The bill would increase funding for at risk students in grades K-8, and all ELL students, as well as provide up to $225 million for school construction to provide space for the state’s growing student population.  The bill needs approval by the 2015 Legislature, but with rapidly growing revenues from the oil and gas boom in the state, the money is in state coffers.

Picus and Odden Assess Arkansas Funding System

Picus Odden and Associates partners Larry Picus and Allan Odden, together with Scott Price, the new chief financial officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, presented a ‘”2014 Arkansas Desk Audit” of the Arkansas school funding system to a summer meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees.

Picus and Odden helped Arkansas develop the current funding system in a 2003 project with an Interim Committee responding to court mandate to create an “adequate” funding structure.  With that study as the foundation, the legislature enacted a new funding system in 2004.  The legislature then had Picus and Odden recalibrate the funding structure in 2006.

Maryland taps Picus Odden and Associates for adequacy study

On June 18, the Maryland Department of Education approved a contract with APA Consulting to conduct a comprehensive school finance adequacy study.  Picus Odden and Associates partnered with APA on this project and is a major subcontractor.  Our firm will conduct an Evidence-Based adequacy analysis for the state, and use the results, in conjunction with the results of two other adequacy methods, to propose a new “base” foundation expenditure per pupil level, together with weights for students from poverty, ELL students and students with disabilities.  The project also will conduct studies of improving schools in multiple contexts.

North Dakota Final Report

On June 2, 2014, Picus Odden and Associates’ Principal Partner Allan Odden met with the Interim Education Funding Committee of the North Dakota Legislature to present the final report on the recalibration of North Dakota’s funding formula.

Of many findings in the report, the recommendations include increasing the Foundation Per Student number (the base adequacy level) from $8,810 to $9,247 and increasing the at-risk student weight, to provide extra help to struggling students from poverty and ELL backgrounds, from 0.05 to 0.20 plus a summer school weight of 0.6.

North Dakota Recalibration Study

During the last week of March, Picus Odden and Associates’ lead partners, Lawrence O. Picus and Allan Odden, met with a dozen school business officials and superintendents in each of two meetings in Bismarck and West Fargo, North Dakota.

The purpose of the meetings was to garner local feedback on several technical issues related to the firm’s recalibration work: pupil weights for at-risk students, ELL students, students with disabilities, summer school and home school supervision.  The groups also discussed an appropriate fringe benefit rate for staff benefits and the district portion of employee health care costs, school staffing focusing on instructional coaches, and small district adjustments.

The input will be included in a final report that will be discussed by the Legislative Interim Committee on Education Funding in Grand Forks, North Dakota on June 2, 2014.

Kentucky Adequacy Study

Picus Odden and Associates began a school finance adequacy study in Kentucky early in 2014, working with the Kentucky School Finance Adequacy Advisory Committee.  The Committee has already met twice and plans to meet again on May 12.  The project is being led by Picus Odden & Associates Senior Associate, Michael Goetz.

To supplement the diverse representation of stakeholders on the Committee, Mike Goetz and Adriane Williams took a three day tour of the state to seek input from teachers and business leaders. They spent April 16 in Hazard (East), April 17 in Madisonville (West), and April 18 in Louisville, home to the largest student population in the state. The diversity of opinions offered by these roughly 30 teachers and 6 business leaders will be integral in developing the final recommendations for the State.

More Rural School Improvement

The Peninsula K-8 School in coastal Maine is another fascinating case of rural school improvement.  A product of multiple district’s consolidating, this new school opened in 2009; about 2/3 of its students qualify for free and reduced price lunch (FRL).

Among other strategies, it has a common reading and math curriculum K-8, organizes teachers into collaborate work groups, and has a “watch” list for any student performing in the bottom half, who first get individual tutoring, then small group tutoring, and then extended day and summer school extra help. Results are especially impressive for the FRL students.

Another Impressive Example of Rural School Improvement

Etna-Dixmont PK-8 School served 256 students in grades PK-8 during the 2013-2014 school year. The school is located in a mid-Maine rural community that has experienced economic decline as mills, a tannery and a large MBNA calling center exited the area over the past decade.

As a result, the unemployment and poverty rates are high.  Sixty-eight percent of students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, a number that has been on the rise in recent years, even though school enrollments have held steady.

Despite these conditions, student performance has improved dramatically in several subject areas and multiple grade levels.  This case tells how Etna-Dixmont made these impressive performance gains.

Rural School Improvement

Most cases of schools that dramatically improve student performance profile urban or suburban schools.  Central Aroostook Jr High School is located in rural, northern Maine, up close to the Canadian border.  What the school has done is fascinating, and reflects the strategy for improvement that is embedded in the firm’s Evidence-Based adequacy model.

Odden meets with North Dakota Legislators & School Superintendents

On January 27, 2014, Allan Odden, Principal Partner in Picus Odden and Associates, served as the keynote speaker for the winter meeting of North Dakota’s Council of Education Leaders in Bismarck, ND.  His topic was an overview of the school finance adequacy recalibration study the firm conducted for the state’s legislature.

The next day, January 28, he met with the Legislature’s Interim Committee on Education Funding to present the first part of the study, which uses the Evidence-Based Adequacy model he and Lawrence O. Picus at the University of Southern California have developed to recalibrate the state’s Expenditure Per Pupil figure used in its school foundation formula.