K-12 Finance & Operations


K-12 Finance & Operations

Many education decisions—from how many students will be in each class to how long bus routes will be—are driven by one significant factor: money. This Topics section offers materials that explore the myriad decisions that affect how money for K-12 schooling is raised and spent, and how those decisions shape the way the nation’s public schools are run.

Many education decisions—from how many students will be in each class to how long bus routes will be—are driven by one significant factor: money. This Topics section offers materials that explore the myriad decisions that affect how money for K-12 schooling is raised and spent, and how those decisions shape the way the nation’s public schools are run.

K-12 education is an expensive line item in all states’ budgets. In every state, education is one of the top two spending categories—rivaled only by Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for low-income people. In 2011, K-12 education made up 20 percent of state budgets, while Medicaid made up nearly 24 percent, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Such a large line item means that in tough budget times, when governors and legislatures must find a lot of money to cut to patch budget holes, K-12 education often cannot be spared.
Schools have taken a financial hit in many states since the severe economic recession that began in 2008. According to an October 2011 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 30 states were spending less on K-12 education than they were before the recession started. And in 17 states, those cuts have been deep—at least 10 percent below pre-recession levels.

School Funding

K-12 remains a mostly state responsibility, with state and local revenues contributing nearly 90 percent of the $600 billion spent to run schools nationwide in 2008-09, the latest year for which such data are available. The federal government provided just 9.5  percent of K-12 funding in the 2008-09 school year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s May 2011 public school finances report. The two biggest programs the federal government pays for are Title I for disadvantaged students and special education.

However, during the severe economic downturn that began in 2008, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in 2009 provided a temporary, one-time infusion of nearly $100 billion of federal money into local schools—boosting the federal contribution to 10 percent as states cut back in tough times. By early 2012, that funding had mostly been spent.

To drive tax dollars to districts, states use widely different and complicated funding formulas based largely on enrollment—and per-pupil spending amounts vary drastically by state. New York spends more than $18,000 per student, while Utah spends less than $7,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. These funding formulas have sparked numerous lawsuits over the years—in 45 states, in fact. Those cases typically challenge whether states are spending enough money on K-12 education, and whether they are equitably spreading that money around to districts within the state.

One of the biggest drivers of school spending is class size, because, on average, 78 percent of a school district’s budget is dedicated to paying the salaries and benefits of teachers, administrators and support personnel directly tied to instruction. The rest of a district’s budget pays for things such as transportation and facilities maintenance staff, supplies, and professional development, according to Census Bureau data.

Consider that in 1955, the average student-teacher ratio nationwide was 27-to-1, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. In 2008, that nationwide ratio had declined to 15-to-1—a figure that was predicted to stay there for the next several years, according to federal estimates. Whether reducing class size actually improves academic achievement is an entirely different issue that is hotly debated.


Given that personnel costs are such a significant part of a district’s budget, school districts are often forced to lay off teachers when faced with significant budget shortfalls. Because of the way teacher contracts are structured, the teachers laid off are often the last ones to have been hired, regardless of how effective they might have been. That practice of “last-in first-out” has been shown to have a disproportionate effect in schools that serve mostly poor and minority students, because the newest teachers are often concentrated in those schools, according to a May 2010 report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

When teachers are laid off, their dismissal contributes to another school-related financial problem: underfunded pensions. Fewer teachers and other public employees paying into state retirement systems mean that unfunded liabilities grow. In 2008, the promises made by state pension plans across the country were, collectively, 84 percent funded. A year later, that figure dropped to 78 percent, according to an April 2011 report by the Pew Center on the States. As more baby boomers retire, states will be faced with even greater budget challenges in dealing with those unfunded liabilities. Some experts predict those problems could spill over and affecting general K-12 funding.

Although most money for schools is spent on costs related to instruction, the cost of building and renovating school facilities accounts for about 11 percent of school spending nationwide, according to the Census Bureau data. Collectively, the nation’s schools spent $54 billion on construction in 2008-09 and carried $400 billion in debt attributed mostly to capital projects. Most states and districts have separate funding streams to pay for capital projects, usually paid for through local property tax dollars.

Transportation is another relatively small portion of a district’s overall budget, but it hasn’t escaped scrutiny during tough budget times. In 2007-08, the latest year for which these data are available from the National Center on Education Statistics, schools collectively spent $21.5 billion on busing, or about 4 percent of their overall spending. That amounted to about $438 per child. When the cost of fuel rises, school districts tend to eye busing to cut costs. Districts across the country, from Jefferson County in Colorado to Westford Public Schools in Massachusetts, have started charging transportation fees—which have sparked outrage in some corners from parents. In some states, including Indiana, lawmakers have debated banning such busing fees.

Saving money on transportation is one of the drivers behind districts switching to four-day school weeks, especially in sprawling rural districts with few students but high transportation costs. All states have laws setting a minimum number of days, or in some cases hours, in each school-year calendar, ranging from a low of 160 days in Colorado to a high of 186 days in Kansas. Most require 180 days.  But during the difficult budget times that began in 2008, school districts across the country began experimenting with changing their school calendars to save money. An analysis by the Education Commission of the States found that by mid-2011, at least 120 districts in 17 states were moving to a four-day school week to save money on transportation, utilities and custodial staff. In exchange for three-day weekends, students spend more hours in class each day. But the savings have been minimal, with actual savings ranging from less than 0.5 percent of district budgets to 2.5 percent. Teachers, whose salaries and benefits make up the bulk of district budgets, still worked the same number of hours, only in a compressed time frame, the analysis found. The relevant studies can be found here.

Even as the economy slowly regains momentum, many analysts expect states to continue to experience lean budget times. And that means school districts will keep having to make tough financial decisions even as they face demands to improve student achievement. 

Member Stories

February 9-16
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

For the San Antonio Express-News, Alia Malik speaks with families who still feel threatened by the shifting enforcement of immigration laws even after the San Antonio Independent School District Board of Trustees approved a resolution to protect their identities.


Latest News

CPS Paying for Re-Enrolled Dropouts, Even if They Cut Class

The cash-strapped Chicago school system is overpaying by as much as $10 million for its new fleet of for-profit alternative schools for dropouts, according to a WBEZ analysis of a Chicago Public Schools audit. The school system pays these half-day schools based on enrollment, but a recent audit found that just 44 percent of their 3,000 enrolled students are coming to class.

Latest News

How the Complex History of Teacher Pay in Washington Slows Down Education Funding Solutions

To understand the landmark McCleary school-funding case, and a big reason why state lawmakers are struggling to reach a final settlement, you have to understand something called TRI pay.

TRI, which stands for additional time, responsibility and incentive, is a big chunk of local money originally intended to pay teachers for extras like serving as a high-school department chair or staying after school to tutor struggling students.

Latest News

Is A Denver-Area School District About To Cut Programs That Haven’t Gotten A Chance To Succeed?

 In its bid to cut $20 million from next year’s budget, Jeffco Public Schools is looking to eliminate two programs that have posted promising results so far.

One is a three-year-old program to help struggling readers at 20 schools that have large numbers of students that need help. The other, modeled on work gaining momentum nationwide, is a new program focused on helping students develop social and emotional skills.

Latest News

How Jeff Sessions Helped Kill Equitable School Funding in Alabama

A lawsuit in the 1990’s had Alabama poised to fund poor black school districts as fairly as wealthy white schools. As state attorney general, Jeff Sessions fought the effort passionately. He never spent a legal sentence arguing that Alabama’s educational system was equitable, that it didn’t clearly favor white and wealthier children while short-changing others. He simply argued the courts had no rightful place saying or doing anything about it.

Latest News

Students and Scholars are Stranded After Trump Bars Travel for Nationals From 7 Countries

An executive order signed by President Trump late Friday afternoon immediately barring immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. has had immediate effects on scholars and students. More than 17,000 students in the U.S. come from the seven countries affected by the immediate 90-day entry ban: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Latest News

We Live Here: A Neighborhood School On the Brink of Closure

Over the last 15 years, cities across the country have faced wave after wave of school closures. Places like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia closed down dozens of buildings at a time. 

But the district that closed the most schools during that time was Detroit Public Schools. 

Since 2000, the city has seen nearly 200 school buildings shuttered. 

So, what happens to a neighborhood — and the kids who live there — when a school closes? 

Member Stories

January 19-26
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

In a story about higher graduation rates for students in career and technical education programs, one source tells Natalie Pate of the Statesman Journal that while math or English may not be students’ favorite classes, “they are more willing to put in the time and do the work” because they can see the relationship between what they are learning and the projects they work on.


Latest News

Dozens Of Struggling Schools In Detroit Are Set To Close — But Nearby Options For Their Students Aren’t Much Better

Michigan education officials’ aggressive school closure plan faces a major challenge: It’s unlikely that most students displaced by closures will end up in substantially better schools.

That’s because there are few schools in struggling cities like Detroit that have test scores significantly higher than the schools facing closure.

In Detroit, where 25 schools serving roughly 12,000 kids are on the chopping block, there are only 19 schools with scores above the bottom quarter, many of which are full to capacity.

Member Stories

January 12-19
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

“While Trump spoke of his desire to reinvest in rural America, most of his education policy has had an urban focus,” Ben Felder writes for The Oklahoman in a story that’s part of a series leading up to the inauguration.


Kate Murphy of the Cincinnati Enquirer interviews the sexual assault survivor whose case launched a federal investigation of how the University of Cincinnati handles reports of sexual assault.


Latest News

New York Governor Wants To Spend More On Education, Lower Taxes

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday proposed a $152.3 billion all-funds state budget for fiscal 2018 that would increase education funding by $1 billion and cut tax rates for 6 million middle-class residents, extending a “millionare’s tax” to pay for them.

His plan, released to the public on Tuesday night during a televised news conference, would also dedicate $2 billion to water infrastructure over five years and $650 million to life sciences research over the same period, proposals he made in a series of speeches earlier this month.

Latest News

The View From Room 205

This is a story about some little kids and a big idea.

The little kids are fourth graders. They go to William Penn Elementary School on Chicago’s West Side in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

It’s the first day of school, September 2014, and they’re filing into the auditorium because Mayor Rahm Emanuel is here to tout rising test scores. The head of Chicago Public Schools at the time, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is here too.

She’s laying out the big idea that I want to wrestle with:

Latest News

Can Betsy DeVos Be Blamed for the State of Detroit’s Schools? What You Need to Know

Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s next secretary of education doesn’t live in Detroit. She doesn’t routinely work in Detroit, either.

But Detroit is nonetheless sure to be on the agenda when billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos sits down Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee for the start of her confirmation hearings.

EWA Radio

‘Quality Counts’ – Rating the Nation’s Public Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 105

Education Week’s Mark Bomster (assistant managing editor) and Sterling Lloyd (senior research associate) discuss the 2017 “Quality Counts” report, which examines and rates state-level efforts to improve public education. This year’s edition features a special focus on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind as the backbone of the nation’s federal K-12 policy. How ready are states, districts, and schools for the policy shifts — and new flexibility — on school accountability, testing, and teacher evaluations under ESSA, among other issues? What are some story ideas for local reporters covering the implementation? Also, which states scored the highest on Education Week’s ratings when it comes to student achievement, equitable education spending, and the “Chance for Success” index? How can education writers use this data to inform their own reporting?

Latest News

‘Stealth Inequities’: How Washington’s Education System Hurts Poor Schools

This year’s legislative session in Olympia, starting Monday, will be an 11th-hour culmination of the puzzle handed down to lawmakers by Washington’s highest court, which said in its 2012 McCleary decision that the state chronically underfunds public schools. By 2018, the court ruled, legislators need to find billions of new dollars for education. Many onlookers see this moment as an unusual opportunity not only to increase overall investment in schools, but also to shift the way Washington allocates education funding. 

Latest News

After Flint, Are Schools Being More Vigilant About Tainted Water?

From Oregon to Maine, the Flint, Mich., water crisis is leading to action in the nation’s schools. Massachusetts expects to complete testing of about 930 schools by January and is making results available online. Chicago Public Schools plans to test all its facilities and post the results online.

Latest News

Incoming DC Schools Chancellor Has Reputation For Reducing Suspensions

Antwan Wilson will take over as head of DC Public Schools following Kaya Henderson’s exit. While he is an outsider, he is not expected to make sweeping changes to the direction the district has been heading over the last decade. His success on reducing suspensions in Oakland comes at a time when the nation is moving away from zero tolerance discipline policies in favor of keeping kids in classrooms.

EWA Radio

2017: Big Education Stories to Watch
EWA Radio: Episode 104

Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year. 

Member Stories

December 15 – December 22
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

This company trains schools how to respond to active shooter attacks, reports Dan Carsen for WBHM. Unlike other training, this group, which has partnered with 3,700 districts, encourages staff and students to fight back.

A heartwarming tale or a case study in picking favorites? Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel examines the merits of a Florida university absorbing a bionics company and the worries other firms have about an unfair competitive environment.

Latest News

Behind Connecticut’s “Opportunity Gap”

In Hartford, Connecticut, a third-grade class read enough books to earn a pizza party. The excited students piled onto a bus, crossing the Connecticut River to a pizza parlor in East Hartford. One student pointed out the window: “What’s that?” She had never seen a river, recalls current Westport Public Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer. Shortly after, Palmer visited a third-grade classroom in the affluent town of Weston. A girl told Palmer it was almost her birthday, and Palmer asked what she was doing to celebrate. The answer: her father was taking her to Paris.

Latest News

Not So Fast: Indiana Senators Worry About Cost of Expanding Preschool

Advocates were hopeful that broad support for a plan to expand free preschool programs for low-income Indiana kids would sail through the legislature next year, but several lawmakers are now raising concerns about cost.

Although Indiana’s House leadership has already come out strongly in support of expanding the state’s preschool program, key players in the senate said today that they remain skeptical about added costs.

Latest News

Google Effect Rubs Off on Schools in One Rural Oklahoma Town

As increasing focus is being paid to the wealth and jobs created by tech companies outside Silicon Valley, Google’s arrival in small-town Pryor serves as a complex example of what happens when a $2.5 billion data center transforms the learning experiences of a rural community’s students in a state where schools are struggling.

Latest News

Local Taxpayers Picking up a Greater Share of School District Funding

Almost every cent flowing into affluent Butler School District 53 in Oak Brook comes from local dollars, roughly $10.1 million. Most comes from property taxes paid by homeowners and businesses that cover everything from teacher salaries to school building projects.

State and federal dollars coming in are minimal by comparison. The local share represents 97 percent of all revenue for Butler, illustrating just how heavily many communities are investing in public schools. Throughout Illinois, the reliance on local taxpayers is growing.

Member Stories

November 17-December 1
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members in the last two weeks

Who is Betsy DeVos? Dale Mezzacappa, Greg Windle and Darryl Murphy of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook team up for a closer look at the Michigan billionaire who is poised to become the next U.S. secretary of education. 


Latest News

State Says Literacy Not a Right in Detroit

Attorneys for Gov. Rick Snyder and state education officials say no fundamental right to literacy exists for Detroit schoolchildren who are suing the state over the quality of their education.

The lawyers are asking a federal judge to reject what they call an “attempt to destroy the American tradition of democratic control of schools.”

Member Stories

October 6 – October 13
Here's what we're reading by EWA members

Learn about Finland’s transition toward a school schedule that merges multiple subjects into extended learning blocks, a move that could be the exception to the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Education Week’s Madeline Will has the story.

Melinda D. Anderson explains in The Atlantic how the “stress of racial discrimination may partly explain the persistent gaps in academic performance between some nonwhite students, mainly black and Latino youth, and their white counterparts.”

Member Stories

September 29-October 6
What we're reading by EWA members this week

In the first story of a new series for The Hechinger Report, Lynell Hancock writes about Greenville, Mississippi, whose school district was the first in the state to “defy the governor and voluntarily offer real choice for white and black children to enroll in each other’s schools.”


One year after the deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the unity and solidarity of the surrounding community hasn’t waned, Andrew Theen reports for The Oregonian.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education at Forefront in Statewide Elections

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock talks with students at the Billings Career Center in August 2016. The state's gubernatorial race is being closely watched by education advocates. (Casey Page/The Billings Gazette)

With so much attention focused on the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, voters could be forgiven for forgetting they’ll be asked to decide plenty more in November. And the stakes are high for K-12 education in state-level elections, including races for governor, state education chief, and legislative seats, plus ballot measures on education funding and charter schools.

Member Stories

September 15-22
What we're reading by EWA members this week

In an article for Harper’s Magazine, “Held Back: Battling for the Fate of a School District,” Alexandria Neason digs into the financial and racial turmoil facing Detroit’s public schools.


As the University of West Florida seeks a new president, students want to know whether their next leader will support the Black Lives Matter movement, Jessica Bakeman writes for Politico.


Key Coverage

Held Back: Battling For The Fate Of A School District

The Detroit public-school system was contending with an operating debt of more than $500 million, and the Citizens Research Council of Michigan had estimated that the total debt topped $3.5 billion. For years, money intended for students has instead been paying off old loans, and academic achievement has consistently ranked among the worst in American cities.

Member Stories

September 8 – September 15
Highlighting some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Melinda Anderson for The Atlantic: “The study suggests that as the portion of students of color in the school increased, so did the odds that the school would rely on more intense surveillance methods.”

EWA Radio

Bright Lights, Big City: Covering NYC’s Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 89

(Unsplash/Pedro Lastra)

Today’s assignment: Reporting on the nation’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students and an operating budget of $25 billion. Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York has dug deep into the city’s special education programs, investigated whether school choice programs are contributing to student segregation rather than reducing it, and penned a three-part series on on one high school’s effort to reinvent itself. He talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about his work, and offers tips for making the most of student interviews, getting access to campuses, and balancing bigger investigations with daily coverage. A first-prize winner for beat reporting in this year’s EWA Awards, Wall is spending the current academic year at Columbia University’s School of Journalism as a Spencer Fellow.

Key Coverage

Divided America: In Recovery, Many Poor Schools Left Behind

Consider Waukegan and Stevenson, two Illinois school districts separated by 20 miles — and an enormous financial gulf.

Stevenson, mostly white, is flush with resources. The high school has five different spaces for theater performances, two gyms, an Olympic-size pool and an espresso bar.

Meanwhile Waukegan, with its mostly minority student body, is struggling. At one school, the band is forced to practice in a hallway, and as many as 28 students share a single computer.

Member Stories

August 18-25
A snapshot of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Many people might think corporal punishment in U.S. schools is practically nonexistent in the modern era, but an Education Week analysis found more than 109,000 students were paddled, swatted, or otherwise physically punished at school in 2013-14, Sarah D. Sparks and Alex Harwin report.


Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

Key Coverage

The Question of Tech Equity

The red-brick building of Ashburn Community Elementary School sits on a quiet street of bungalows, two blocks from the commuter rail line that cuts through the city’s Far Southwest Side.

The principal, Jewel Diaz, is a veteran who’s led Ashburn since 2003, the year after it opened. Nearly all of her students are low-income children of color, and a survey the school conducted last year showed that dozens of them don’t have internet access at home. To make up for this, Diaz has tried to compensate at school.


Getting in Deep: Immersing Yourself in a Difficult Education Story
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar

Getting in Deep: Immersing Yourself in a Difficult Education Story

Award-winning Boston Globe journalist Meghan Irons shares lessons from her reporting on two complex stories about students and race: one on equity and campus climate at Boston Latin, the nation’s oldest public school; and another that looked closely at school desegregation 40 years after the tumultuous debut of court-ordered busing in Boston.

  • Meghan Irons, The Boston Globe
  • Denise Amos, The Florida Times-Union (moderator)

The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1
Washington, D.C. • August 30, 2016

Now that the White House race has narrowed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how is education playing out as an issue in the campaign? Will it prove an important fault line between the Democratic and Republican candidates? Will Trump offer any details to contrast with Clinton’s extensive set of proposals from early childhood to higher education? What are the potential implications for schools and colleges depending on who wins the White House? Also, what other races this fall should be on the radar of journalists, whether elections for Congress, state legislatures, or governor?


By the Book: Dale Russakoff, The Prize
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar

By the Book: Dale Russakoff, The Prize

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, New Jersey, then-mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie were beside him, vowing to help make Newark “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” Dale Russakoff’s book tells the story of what happened next.

  • Dale Russakoff, author
  • Leslie Brody, The Wall Street Journal (moderator)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

A New 2016 “Common Core,” With Social-and-Emotional Muscle

By BMRR (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

At the age of nine, Amalio Nieves saw his father die from gun violence in Chicago. And as a child, Nieves himself was robbed at gunpoint. Now he’s always thinking about his young niece Jordan and the year 2100 – when Jordan will be the parent of a child that leads America into a new, unknown century.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Progressives in Massachusetts Shortchange Poor Kids, Governor Says

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at EWA's National Seminar in Boston. (Photo by Katherine Taylor for EWA)

Massachusetts has long been the poster child for education.

For years now it’s ranked at the top in the country for math and reading achievement, boasted impressive graduation rates and made a significant financial investments over the last few decades to get there.

It’s no slouch when it comes to higher education either. Massachusetts harbors some of the best colleges and universities in the world, and it’s joining a growing number of states looking to make college more affordable.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Behind the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Failure Factories Series

Kindergartner Tyree Parker sits at the front doors of Maximo Elementary as he waits for school to open. (Tampa Bay Times/Dirk Shadd)

Cara Fitzpatrick was in labor when her husband – and colleague at the Tampa Bay Times – asked her “So what can you tell me about segregation in Pinellas County?”

The paper had just decided to do a large-scale investigation into the district’s schools that were serving predominately low-income, black students. Two years later, Fitzpatrick’s son is walking and talking and she and the rest of the team have earned a Pulitzer Prize for their series Failure Factories.  

Key Coverage

Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

EWA Radio

Inside Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Failure Factories’
EWA Radio: Episode 70

Kindergartner Tyree Parker sits at the front doors of Maximo Elementary as he waits for school to open. (Tampa Bay Times/Dirk Shadd)

Update: On May 2, “Failure Factories” won the $10,000 Hechinger Grand Prize in the EWA National Awards for Education Reporting.

The Pulitzer Prize for local reporting this year went to the Tampa Bay Times for an exhaustive investigation into how a handful of elementary schools in Pinellas County wound up deeply segregated by race, poverty, and opportunity.


Half the People Working in Schools Aren’t Classroom Teachers—So What?

When we think of elementary and secondary schools, many of us picture students in classrooms taught by lone teachers, overseen by a principal. In reality, many adults work in schools other than teachers and principals. It may be surprising to learn that there are as many non-teaching adults as there are teachers in U.S. public schools. These adults play roles from supporting students with special needs to coaching teachers to community outreach to maintaining facilities.

EWA Radio

TGI Thursday! Idaho’s Four-Day Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 51

Faced with massive budget cuts in the wake of the recession, many Idaho school districts switched to a four-day weekly calendar. But more than seven years into the experiment, an investigation by Idaho Education News – lead by reporter Kevin Richert — found little evidence that the schedule change improved either student achievement or the fiscal outlook of cash-strapped districts.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Researching Poverty’s Effects on Learning

(Flickr/Geraint Rowland)

One question that often comes up during state legislative sessions is whether it’s a waste of money to increase educational spending in large urban areas with high poverty and low student achievement.

“There’s a very pervasive view out there that money doesn’t have an effect on outcomes at all,” said Kirabo Jackson, an economist at Northwestern University, during a panel at the Education Writers Association’s October seminar on poverty and education.

Key Coverage

How Washington Created Some of the Worst Schools in America

Flash forward 46 more years. The network of schools for Native American children run by an obscure agency of the Interior Department remains arguably the worst school system in the United States, a disgrace the government has known about for eight decades and never successfully reformed. Earlier this fall, POLITICO asked President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, about perhaps the federal government’s longest-running problem: “It’s just the epitome of broken,” he said. “Just utterly bankrupt.” The epitome of broken looks like Crystal Boarding School.


High School Closures in New York City

In the first decade of the 21st century, the NYC Department of Education implemented a set of large-scale and much debated high school reforms, which included closing large, low-performing schools, opening new small schools and extending high school choice to students throughout the district. The school closure process was the most controversial of these efforts. Yet, apart from the general sense that school closures are painful, there has never been a rigorous assessment of their impact in NYC.

Key Coverage

The Slowest Internet in Mississippi: Rural Schools Still Struggle to Get Connected

The 2,500 students in Calhoun County can’t do Internet research in school. Computerized state testing here last spring was a disaster. Teachers have given up on using online tools in the classroom. The district has given up on buying the new digital technologies that are transforming schools elsewhere.

 And the most outrageous part: For the privilege of being stuck with the slowest Internet service in all of Mississippi, the nine-school Calhoun County district is billed $9,275 each month.


State Capacity to Support School Turnaround
Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

More than 80 percent of states made turning around low-performing schools a high priority, but at least 50 percent found it very difficult to turn around low-performing schools. 38 states (76 percent) reported significant gaps in expertise for supporting school turnaround in 2012, and that number increased to 40 (80 percent) in 2013.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Saving on College by Doing Some of It in High School

Gov. Dannel Malloy announces the creation of Connecticut's first P-TECH high school, modeled after the IBM-backed school in Brooklyn, New York. (Source: Flickr/Dannel Malloy)

Last week the White House announced a new higher education experiment that will direct federal grants to some high school students who want to enroll in college classes.

The plan is to start small, with the administration offering $20 million to help defray the college costs of up to 10,000 low-income high school students for the 2016-2017 academic year. The money will come from the overall Pell Grant pot, which is currently funded at more than $30 billion annually and used by 8 million students.

EWA Radio

Summer Reading List: “The Prize”
EWA Radio: Episode 38

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In 2010, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an unprecedented gift: he would donate $100 million to the public school district of Newark, New Jersey (dollars that would eventually be matched by private partners).

Dale Russakoff, a longtime reporter for The Washington Post, spent more than three years reporting on what turned into a massive experiment in top-down educational interventions—with decidedly mixed results. 


69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts

Webinar on School District Finance & Bonds
Bonding Over School Data: Finding District Finance Stories Through Bond Records

Webinar on School District Finance & Bonds

What’s your district’s financial outlook?

Often that’s a tricky question, requiring a lot of digging through multiple sources. But if the district recently issued bonds, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips. That’s because the financial laws governing the bond market require districts to share a wide range of information (including details they may want to keep quiet).

Key Coverage

Mismanagement and Rising Debt Ensures Teacher Pension Gap Widens

Poor management. Lost opportunity. Burgeoning debt. 

The state educators’ pension fund is bleeding billions each year. Across the state school districts aren’t able to pay half of what their retirees are collecting in pensions, a Times analysis showed — and that’s not taking into account more than $35 billion in debt.


Beyond the Rising Costs of Pensions
2015 EWA National Seminar

Beyond the Rising Costs of Pensions

Pensions are causing serious budget issues across the country, including Illinois. But issues around pensions go beyond the rising costs, and the session will explore those questions, too. How can reporters generate lively stories on this important (but potentially dull) subject?

  • Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune (Speaker/Moderator)
  • Chad Aldeman, Bellwether Education Partners
  • Ralph Martire, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability

Instructional Time Trends
Education Commission of the States

For more than 30 years, Education Commission of the States has tracked instructional time and frequently receives requests for information about policies and trends. In this Education Trends report, Education Commission of the States addresses some of the more frequent questions, including the impact of instructional time on achievement, variation in school start dates, and trends in school day and year length. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Beyond NCLB: New Era in Federal Education Policy?

Screenshot of a tweet by @KristenRencher

Fifty years ago, the federal government enacted the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. The newest version of the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act, became law 13 years ago and has stayed in place ever since. On Thursday, a new version of the federal government’s most far-reaching K-12 education law moved closer to adoption. The U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, one week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version, the Student Success Act.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Secret to Great School Budget Stories? Dig, Dig, Dig

A Dallas Independent School District's Citizen Budget Review Commission meeting in 2011. Dallas Morning News reporter Tawnell Hobbs found rampant misspending in an investigation of the district's finances that covered four years of financial records.  (Flickr/Todd Overman for DISD)

News stories on school district budgets often stick to whether spending is up or down, whether employees received raises or not. So Dallas Morning News reporter Tawnell Hobbs helped attendees at the Education Writers Association National Seminar delve deeper into school spending and unlock the juiciest stories during a session in Chicago on April 20.


Mindset Interventions Are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement
Stanford University

We quickly discovered two good reasons schools weren’t implementing mindset interventions: Schools didn’t know how to implement mindset interventions, and Schools didn’t know whether mindset interventions would work for their students. We had something important in common with them: We didn’t know either! To turn mindset interventions into something that schools could (and should) practically use, we first needed to develop a mindset intervention that schools could easily implement. We also needed to test whether this easy-to-use intervention was effective for various kinds of students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering the Business Side of Education

Flickr/Internet Archive Book Images

Come budget time, school superintendents are first to say that teacher salaries take the biggest chunk of a district’s spending.

But even a glance at the pie charts and line items shows that public education is a big business, too — curriculum and technology, PowerSchool and iPads, and charter management fees, real estate transactions and school renovations can cost taxpayers millions for a single district.

Where exactly is that money going?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education Philanthropy and How to Cover It

(Flickr/BES Photos)

News of foundations and philanthropists partnering with school districts seems more and more common as states have struggled to provide adequate funding for K-12 education, while district leadership seek new avenues to give students an edge.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

White House School Arts Program Expands to D.C., New York

Yo-Yo Ma performs at the 2008 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. He's one of several dozen artists affiliated with Turnaround Arts. (Source:
By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

A program that pairs celebrities with struggling schools to develop their arts education is expanding to more large cities, The U.S. Department of Education announced today. 

Known as the Turnaround Arts initiative, the $10-million effort pools public and private funds to teach music, dance and other arts disciplines at schools that are considered among the worst in their respective states.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Get Dollars to Schools That Need Them

"Covering the Economics of Education," April 20, 2015.

At a speech in December, Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, took the United States to task for the way it funds schools.

“Public education spending is often lower for students in lower-income households than for students in higher-income households,” she told the audience at the Conference on Economic Opportunity and Inequality, in Boston.

Story Lab

Story Lab: Making Federal Data a Gold Mine for Your Reporting

Need a state or national statistic? There’s likely a federal data set for that. From fairly intuitive and interactive widgets to dense spreadsheets — and hundreds of data summaries in between — the U.S. Department of Education’s various research programs are a gold mine for reporters on the hunt for facts and figures.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Reporting on Schools: Why Campus Access Matters

Hallway of Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, Texas. (Flickr/Dean Terry)

Back in December, reporter Lauren Foreman of the Bakersfield Californian sent an email titled “Banned from classrooms” to a group of education journalists.

“One of my district’s assistant supes told me today reporters aren’t allowed to observe classroom instruction, and parents aren’t even allowed to freely do that,” she wrote. Foreman wanted to know what policies were in other districts and how she ought to respond.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Teachers Keep Teaching, Contrary to Conventional Wisdom

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan meets with teachers in Los Angeles on October 21, 2014. Photo credit: Flickr/U.S. Dept. of Education

Despite previous reports that new teachers are ditching their professions in record numbers, new federal data suggest that a grand majority of novice classroom instructors are showing up for work year after year.

Eighty-three percent of rookie teachers in 2007 continued to educate public school students half a decade later, according to the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study. Ten percent of teachers left the field after just one year.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Gov. Rauner: Put Money in Classrooms, Not Bureaucracy

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks with attendees at the kickoff of EWA's 68th National Seminar in Chicago on April 20, 2015. (Stephanie Banchero)

In a wide-ranging speech on educational opportunity, teacher quality, school funding and accountability delivered at the kickoff of the Education Writers Association’s 68th National Seminar, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner shared with reporters his vision for the future of education in the Prairie State.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

More Schools Turning to Online Fundraisers

A teacher in Muskegon Heights, northwest of Grand Rapids, Mich., is seeking $239 to buy her students headphones. (DonorsChoose.org)

A couple of recent stories highlight schools turning to online fundraising to provide students with everything from basic classroom supplies to long-distance field trips. 

Nicole Dobo, who covers blended learning for The Hechinger Report, looked at how more easily accessible (and transparent) online sites such as DonorsChoose.org are giving teachers a way to make direct appeals for help:


When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools
University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research

This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.

The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education and the Election: What Happened and What It Means

Source: Flickr/Ginny (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The midterm election results have big implications for education, from Republicans’ success in retaking the U.S. Senate to new governors coming in and a slew of education ballot measures, most of which were defeated.

The widely watched race for California’s schools superintendent came down to the wire, with incumbent Tom Torlakson edging out challenger Marshall Tuck — a former charter schools administrator: 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Are Students Learning Lessons of Midterm Elections?

Today is a day off from school for millions of students as campuses in some districts and states — including Michigan and New York — are converted into polling stations for the midterm elections. To Peter Levine, the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, that’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate democracy in action.


Testing Overload in America’s Schools
Center for American Progress

Despite the perception that federally mandated state testing is the root of the issue, districts require more tests than states. Students across all grade spans take more district tests than state assessments. Students in K-2 are tested three times as much on district exams as state exams, and high school students are tested twice as much on district exams. Click here for study. 

EWA Radio

Is Kochs’ High School Finance Class Pushing Conservative Agenda?
EWA Radio, Episode 8

This week, Emily and Mikhail talk to Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post, who discusses her story (written with colleague Christina Wilkie) about the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s creation of Youth Entrepreneurs: a public high school finance course being used in schools in the midwest and south, which was designed to introduce students to free market theory and economics with a distinctly conservative point of view. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Will ‘Portfolio District Model’ Yield Returns on Investment?

The idea has a simple, seductive appeal. Expand the things that work, cut short the things that don’t.

The notion, drawn from the investment world, has manifested itself in public education as the “Portfolio District Model.” Instead of managing stocks and bonds, school districts manage schools, creating or expanding successful ones, closing unsuccessful ones, focusing with zeal on academic results.

Key Coverage

What We Don’t Know About Summer School

So as the July heat kicks in, we started wondering about the whole idea. What, exactly, is summer school? How much does it cost? And, the biggest question, does it work? In a nutshell, we have no idea. “It’s been one of my pet peeves for years,” says Kathy Christie, vice president of knowledge and information management at the nonprofit Education Commission of the States. She says there’s never been a push for anyone to collect data on summer school. As a result there isn’t really good information about any of those questions above.


Performance Screens for School Improvement: The Case of Teacher Tenure Reform in New York City

Tenure reforms in NYC led to a substantial drop in the percent of eligible teachers approved for tenure – from 94 percent during academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09, the two years prior to the introduction of the policy, to 89 percent in the first year of the policy (2009-10) and to an average of 56 percent during the three subsequent years.
The vast majority of eligible teachers who were not approved for tenure had their probationary period extended. The proportion of teachers denied tenure changed only slightly, from two to three percent, following reform.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Survey: Teachers Say Their Voices Aren’t Being Heard

When it comes to having their voices heard, teachers overwhelmingly say they aren’t being listened to on matters of education policy at the state or national level.

At the school level, however, 69 percent of teachers said their opinions carried weight, according to the third edition of the “Primary Sources”  survey by Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was published Tuesday.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Beyond Teachers: Who Else Is Your District Employing?

Credit: Flickr/ecastro

You may know that teachers make up roughly half of the education staff in school districts, but who are the other employees on the rolls? To provide a clearer picture, I broke down data from the U.S. Department of Education on district staffing to visualize this often-overlooked slice of the workforce.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Compelling Principal Stories: It Can Be Done

One of the education system’s most powerful influences on student learning is often ignored — the school principal. Journalists frequently find it challenging to capture the complexities of the job. But the collection of coverage we’ve assembled underscores that this facet of the education beat is replete with interesting angles.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

For Salt Lake City Students, No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

There are bad ideas, and then there are the seemingly indefensible ones. I’d argue that snatching back lunches from the trays of elementary school children whose parents owe the cafeteria money – and then throwing that food into the trash while the hungry kids watch — falls into the latter category.

Key Coverage

Immense Unease Over Advertisers Nabbing Student Data: Poll

The poll found that while only 37 percent of the public has “seen, read, or heard” “some” or “a great deal” about schools collecting, storing and sharing information, including age, weight and grades, 90 percent are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about private companies having access to student data.

Key Coverage

A Longer School Day In Chicago, But With What Missing?

For decades, children in Chicago had one of the shortest elementary school days in the country, and students were in class fewer days than their peers not only nationally but also in much of the developed world. Rahm Emanuel vowed in his successful 2011 mayoral campaign both to rectify the situation and to give Chicago’s kids a well-rounded education during their additional school hours.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education

New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, EWA’s Emily Richmond talks with Phi Delta Kappa’s Bill Bushaw about a new Gallup/PDK poll on attitudes toward public education. Watch it here!

The PDK/Gallup poll generated some media buzz, and when viewed alongside two other education polls released this week, reveals a populace that has an ambivalent view on the state of U.S. schools. 

Catch up with news coverage of the polls’ results and responses from stakeholders below:


School’s (Still) In: Making the Most of Summer Learning
1 hour

While students are celebrating the start of the long summer break, there’s a significant tradeoff for the three months of leisure – on average, students will return to school in the fall a month behind where they performed in the spring. And the learning loss is even greater for low-income students who were already behind their more affluent peers. In this EWA Webinar, we examine how districts are successfully combating summer learning loss with high-quality programs and leveraging community partnerships to help pay for them.


Education at a Glance 2013: EWA/OECD Webinar
55 minutes

How much of the U.S. gross domestic product is spent on education? How does that education spending break down for early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education? How much private spending is dedicated to education, compared to public spending? What is the link between higher education degrees and unemployment rates in the U.S. and other countries?


How I Did the Story: “An Empty Desk Epidemic” by David Jackson & Gary Marx

How I Did the Story: “An Empty Desk Epidemic” by David Jackson & Gary Marx

David Jackson and Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune talk about the 10-year reporting project that became EWA’s Grand Prize-winning project, “An Empty-Desk Epidemic.” The expansive story demonstrated how students in Chicago’s public schools racked up missed days of school even as early as kindergarten.

Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013 at Stanford University

Head to The Educated Reporter to read a guest blog by Jackson and Marks.


How I Did the Story: Reporting From a Turnaround School in “Following Trevista”

How I Did the Story: Reporting From a Turnaround School in “Following Trevista”

Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio talks about following a group of teachers, administrators and students going through a turnaround effort at a failing school in Denver. “Trevista” was awarded first prize, Single-Topic News, Series or Feature in Broadcast in EWA’s 2012 National Awards for Education Reporting. Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013, at Stanford University.

*Please note: Due to technical difficulties during recording, the audio in the first half of this video is distorted. There is nothing wrong with your speakers.


Technology Counts 2013: Building the Digital District

Technology Counts 2013—the 16th edition of Education Week’s annual report on educational technology—tackles how school districts are working to incorporate more multimedia into classrooms, upgrade online professional development, and do a better job using data to improve student achievement.


Follow the Money: What’s Hiding In Your School District’s Spending?
56 minutes

Follow the Money: What’s Hiding In Your School District’s Spending?

So you’ve managed to get your hands on all the records your school district keeps about its budget and spending. Now what? How can you turn a giant data dump into a compelling story for your readers?

In this EWA webinar, you’ll hear how reporters at the Dallas Morning News used public records to create databases of district spending and budget information, and how they used those databases to uncover everything from fraud and mismanagement to cozy vendor-employee relationships to the misuse of federal grants.


Mining the Data: What States Have and Where to Find It
58 minutes

Elizabeth Laird, Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Data Quality Campaign, provides an update on states’ progress toward collecting and using education data and reveals the type of data and related reports available from your states. She’ll especially concentrate on linking K-12 and postsecondary data to explore issues like college and career readiness, college remediation, and other topics.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Poorest Schools Face Deepest Cuts from Sequestration

Without a last-minute deal by lawmakers  across-the-board reductions in funding to every federal agency — known as sequestration —  will happen Friday. While public schools wouldn’t see most of the cuts take effect until the new fiscal year on July 1, education officials at the local, state and federal levels are warning of dire consequences for programs and services that assist the most vulnerable students.


A Dozen Economic Facts About K-12 Education

The following facts help illustrate the state of educational attainment in the United States and the growing importance of education in determining people’s well-being. On many dimensions—lifetime earnings, incarceration rates, and life expectancy, to name a few—Americans who do not graduate from high school or college are increasingly falling behind those with a college degree. This paper explores both the condition of education in the United States and the economic evidence on several promising K-12 interventions that could improve the lives of Americans.


The National Association of State Budget Officers

The National Association of State Budget Officers uses research, policy analysis and education to advance state budget practices.

The Council of Chief State School Officers is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing state-level education leaders from across the country.

Key Coverage

Teacher-Evaluation Plans Bedevil Waiver States

Even though 34 states and the District of Columbia have No Child Left Behind Act waivers in hand, many of them are still negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education over their teacher-evaluation systems—a crucial component if they want to keep their newfound flexibility.


Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life

Large-scale public school closures have become a fact of life in many American cities, and that trend is not likely to stop now. In a previous study, The Pew Charitable Trusts looked at a wide range of issues involved in the shuttering of buildings, including the impact on students. For this report, we focused on what happens to the buildings themselves, studying the experiences of Philadelphia and 11 other cities that have decommissioned large numbers of schools in recent years.

Key Coverage

Days of small K-3 classes look done for in California

California embarked on an ambitious experiment in 1996 to improve its public schools by putting its youngest students in smaller classes. Nearly 17 years later, the goal of maintaining classrooms of no more than 20 pupils in the earliest grades has been all but discarded– a casualty of unproven results, dismal economic times and the sometimes-fleeting nature of education reform. To save money on teacher salaries amid drastic cutbacks in state funding, many school districts throughout the state have enlarged their first-, second- and third-grade classes to an average of 30 children.

Key Coverage

How a Labor Dispute in NYC Led to $450 Million in Lost Funds

For New York City, that means that it will not receive $250 million in aid, money that city officials said would result in midyear cuts and could affect school funding for school staff, technology and after school and arts programs. The absence of an evaluation means that the city will also not be able to claim up to another $200 million in state and federal grant money.

Key Coverage

The history of school closings in Chicago 2002-12

WBEZ plotted annual school closings and schools “turned around” since the 2001-02 school year when CPS began shuttering schools as a reform strategy. This sortable chart and map shows where schools have been closed or turned around (where the staff is completely replaced but students remain), what’s become of the old buildings and how well the new schools in those buildings are performing. The chart includes updated performance data from the 2011-12 school year.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Climate, Safety and Discipline Focus of New Report

There’s a wealth of information — and food for thought — in Education Week’s new report Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate.

These issues are moving to the forefront of the national debate. As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer-winning package made clear last year, when it comes to issues of student safety and discipline, schools are struggling to balance policy against reality.

Key Coverage

School District Owes $1 Billion On $100 Million Loan

More than 200 school districts across California are taking a second look at the high price of the debt they’ve taken on using risky financial arrangements. Collectively, the districts have borrowed billions in loans that defer payments for years — leaving many districts owing far more than they borrowed. In 2010, officials at the West Contra Costa School District, just east of San Francisco, were in a bind. The district needed $2.5 million to help secure a federally subsidized $25 million loan to build a badly needed elementary school

Key Coverage

Declining Enrollment Causing Problems for Hampton Roads School Districts

Demographers and local officials say the reasons for this marked decline in student numbers are myriad: smaller families, graying communities, less new housing development, families moving out of the area. But its effects touch all aspects of schools, from the number of employees to hire to how many cartons of milk to order or buses to deploy, even whether to build new schools or close old ones.

Key Coverage

Funding Rules Test Schools

KARNES CITY, Texas—The school district in this ranching community has long been among the poorest in the state—and it remains so, local officials say, even though an oil boom has sent property values surging eightfold in the past two years. But that jump in value has changed the town’s designation to “property wealthy” from “property poor,” under Texas’ school-funding formula. That means the town can’t keep most of this year’s projected property tax of $20 million—up from $6.5 million last year—and must instead share the bounty with other districts.

Key Coverage

Education Ballot Initiative Results Show Mixed Returns On School Reform

Reform supporters come from both parties, and tend to push for charter schools and grading teachers in accordance with their students’ standardized test scores. In some states, like Connecticut, South Dakota and Idaho, voters dealt the movement a significant blow, pushing back controversial measures that would have ended an elected school board, abolished teacher tenure and instituted merit pay.

Key Coverage

Bostonians Committed to School Diversity Haven’t Given Up on Busing

Today the district is split into three large school zones and children are bused widely within them. But since only 13 percent of Boston public school students are white, and only 22 percent are middle class or affluent, politicians have begun to speak openly about the supposed futility of busing as a school desegregation tool. In his January 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Thomas Menino vowed to end widespread busing, speaking romantically about the neighborhood school model. “Pick any street. A dozen children probably attend a dozen different schools,” he said.

Key Coverage

State Ballot Measures Include Hot K-12 Issues

Some of the education-related ballot items, like those in Arizona and California, are part of the perennial effort to obtain more financial support for schools and seek to help K-12 school systems recover in part from the Great Recession and subsequent economic stagnation. But other proposals—such as ones in Idaho and South Dakota—represent resistance from teachers’ unions and other groups to changes they view as antagonistic to public education, such as reduced collective bargaining rights or a bigger emphasis on standardized testing.


Counting Kids and Tracking Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten

“Even as the availability of data on K-12 education programs has exploded over the past decade, the American education system suffers from an acute lack of some of the most basic information about publicly funded programs for young children. Although, for example, pre-K often comprises significant investments by state and federal governments, in many localities it is difficult to determine how many children receive publicly funded pre-K services or to make fair comparisons between local programs.”

Key Coverage

New Attendance Push Prized by Students, Educators

The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day, rather than enrollment. Several California districts have made a back-to-school ritual of reminding parents that schools lose money whenever kids are out.

Key Coverage

California Defunds Program to Fix ‘Slum’ Schools

Eight years after California settled a landmark lawsuit promising hundreds of millions of dollars to repair shoddy school facilities, more than 700 schools still are waiting for their share of funds as students take classes on dilapidated campuses with health and safety hazards. California has funded less than half of the $800 million required by the Emergency Repair Program, which grew out of a class-action lawsuit against the state that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to settle.


Special Reports on School Improvement Grants

This series of three special reports examines implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The first special report, Schools with Federal Improvement Grants Face Challenges in Replacing Principals and Teachers, looks at how states, districts, and schools are addressing challenges related to SIG staffing requirements.


EdCounts database, finance categories

This database “compiles state-level information on K-12 education from sources such as the U.S. Department of Education, Market Data Retrieval, and education policy organizations like the Education Commission of the States and the National Center for Educational Accountability.” A valuable resource for producing a variety of charts and graphs.


Does Money Matter in Education?

This report, published in 2012, concludes that “In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes. Policymakers would be well-advised to rely on high-quality research to guide the critical choices they make regarding school finance.

Key Coverage

Too Big to Fix

EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. Crumbling school buildings can impede academic achievement, but what happens when the public votes down bond measures to upgrade the infrastructure? This series of articles looks at the impasse between school boards and the voters, and cost-saving tricks to fine tune the walls of public instruction. (The Journal News)

Key Coverage

The Right Move?

EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. Of the many problems turnaround schools face, the intersection of finances and performance goals is often at the heart of what make or break them. Many of these schools face a dilemma: They need students to keep their budgets and staff intact, but find it tough to improve academics with too many low-achievers.

Key Coverage

Back to School for the Billionaires

Newsweek and the Center for Public Integrity “crunched the numbers on graduation rates and test scores in 10 major urban districts—from New York City to Oakland—which got windfalls from…four top philanthropists. The results, though mixed, are dispiriting proof that money alone can’t repair the desperate state of urban education.”

Key Coverage

Tight Budgets Mean Squeeze in Classrooms

When tis report was published, “millions of public school students across the nation [were] seeing their class sizes swell because of budget cuts and teacher layoffs, undermining a decades-long push by parents, administrators and policy makers to shrink class sizes.”

Key Coverage

The National Stimulus Project

Reporters from 36 news outlets in 27 states spent nearly three months examining the impact of the historic influx of cash from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They found that the stimulus package’s long-term impact on public education is far from certain. Indeed, many of the resulting policy changes are already endangered by political squabbles and the massive budget shortfalls still facing recession-battered state and local governments.