Thursday, January 24, 2008

Class Size Reduction Funding In Utah

I recently finished reading the legislative audit report that I wrote about here. To summarize, the audit was requested because for over a decade or so the Legislature has allocated "extra" money to Utah's schools with the express purpose of reducing class size. Utah has consistently ranked near the bottom of the US in classroom size, and this was seen as a way to attack that directly. Tens of millions of dollars have been allocated to schools through this Class Size Reduction (CSR) program, and the Legislature wanted to verify how it had been spent.

The report concludes that, despite some accounting difficulties, 100% of the money was used correctly. 99% of it went towards hiring new teachers. 1% went to pay for things like portable classrooms.

Yet the auditors found that even with those tens of millions of dollars all being spent to reduce class size, mostly by hiring teachers, since 2000 there was a net gain of only two teachers. And Utah still ranks near the bottom in classroom size.

How could this be? There's a couple of reasons. First, while an initial influx of money can be used to hire another teacher, that means that next year's CSR allotment has to be enough to continue paying those new teachers plus even more so that another round of teachers can be hired. In order to continuously reduce class sizes by hiring teachers, the CSR funding would have to increase exponentially each year, and simply put, it hasn't. In some years it wasn't enough to even maintain the new teachers hired in previous years.

Secondly, school enrollment has risen sharply each year; in fact, has beaten the projections in every year covered by the audit report. And while the Legislature is required by Utah code to increase CSR funding in proportion to enrollment growth, it never has.

In short, the auditors found that school districts all spent their CSR money appropriately, and even though the Legislature has increased CSR funding dramatically, it simply hasn't been enough to keep up with rising teacher costs and enrollment growth.


Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Well, so the localities managed to use the money correctly, but the problems were more complex than simply hiring teachers. Population increase, the rising cost of all sorts of things, and the natural attrition rate of older teachers - as well as the on-going costs posed by the hiring of new teachers and adding infrastructure - create problems not addressed in the original legislation. So, we either drop it as a failure, or we "toss more money at the problem", or the legislature seeks more creative ways of dealing with the problem.

It's nice to know that, despite the initially stated issue of reporting problems, the money was spent as it was appropriated. Too bad the problem is more intransigent than was at first realized.

Cameron said...

Geoffrey, your analysis of the audit findings, including the "what to do now?" question you address, is pretty much what the auditors wrote as well. The program needs another look, and legislators need to decide if they want to spend the significant money required to reduce class size, or if they simply want to maintain whatever gains the previous allotments acheived. I think the costs involved necessitate some substantial innovation, aside from simply trying to hire more teachers.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

On another note, I was sorry to hear the leader of the LDS died yesterday. much luck to Mormons everywhere as you search for a replacement.