K-12 Finance & Operations

Overview

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.

Teachers

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

Sept. 7 – 13
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

In a new radio documentary, APM Reports’ Emily Hanford looks at why teaching reading has become so controversial — and ineffective — in many U.S. classrooms. 

At a time of federal “zero tolerance” policies on immigration, students from immigrant families in the Washington, D.C., area are struggling to stay focused on their academics, reports Jenny Abamu of WAMU. 

EWA Radio

When School Funding Isn’t Fair
What does educational inequity look like in Pennsylvania's schools?
(EWA Radio: Episode 180)

image of bleachers at Aliquippa Junior-Senior High School's football field

In recent years, multiple U.S. Secretaries of education, appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, have called access to quality public schools a civil rights issue. At the same time, a growing number of states face court challenges to how they fund their K-12 systems, amid concerns that current approaches exacerbate inequities, particularly for historically underserved groups like students of color.

Latest News

Teacher Strikes Are Heating Up in More States

The momentum from the historic wave of statewide teacher strikes last spring seems set to continue this school year.

After thousands of teachers in a half-dozen states walked out of their classrooms to protest issues like low pay and cuts to school funding—to varying degrees of success—some onlookers are predicting this school year will see continued activism.

Member Stories

August 31 – September 6
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

The National Education Association is hoping a crash course in campaigning will help educators running for public office, reports Education Week’s Sarah Schwartz.

For the Tampa Bay Times, Claire McNeill examines why some students of color feel isolated at Florida’s flagship university.

In Washington state, Katie Gillespie of The Columbian asks teachers on the picket lines what keeps them going despite frustrations with the job.

Latest News

EXCLUSIVE: Senator Cory Booker Speaks Out About Newark School Reform, Equity, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Millions Ahead of a Possible Run for the Presidency

Rather than a quick question-and-answer session, the senator talked for nearly 90 minutes about his high-profile efforts to turn around Newark’s failing schools with a $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and its spectacular rollout on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show. He spoke about why he decided to tackle education reform and the difficult politics around reforming urban schools.

Member Stories

August 24 – August 30
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

To address chronic absenteeism, schools are experimenting with punishments and rewards, reports The Wall Street Journal’s Tawnell Hobbs.

As The Oregonian’s Bethany Barnes reports, the reopening of a historic middle school is shedding light on Portland’s complicated history of educating black children.

For the Associated Press, Sally Ho examines Bill Gates’ investments in education reform, new and old.

Member Stories

August 17 – August 23
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

As a new school year begins, The Oklahoman’s Ben Felder explores the impact of teacher walkouts and where Oklahoma schools go from here.

In Puerto Rico, students recently returned to schools where the effects of Hurricane Maria are still evident, reports Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa.

Chalkbeat’s Caroline Bauman examines whether Tennessee has delivered on a promise to turn around its lowest-performing schools. 

Latest News

Texas Saved Billions Cutting Special Education. Now the Bill Comes Due

Texas’s 5.4 million students are returning to school amid the usual scramble for textbooks, lockers and desks. The state is also facing a huge problem of its own creation: how to find, evaluate and properly teach as many as 200,000 students wrongly denied special education or overlooked as it sought to limit spending for the nation’s fastest-growing school population.

And then there’s the question of how Texas, under orders from the U.S. government, will pay for it all.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Much Do Charter Schools Cost Districts?
As charter school enrollment grows, researchers disagree on extent of financial impact and who's to blame.

It’s a refrain heard often in arguments against charter schools—they divert money and resources from already cash-strapped traditional public schools.

But determining to what extent that criticism rings true is anything but simple. Despite several studies, estimates of the costs traditional public schools bear as they lose students to charter schools are imprecise and vary considerably.

Latest News

‘He’s a Liar’: Hot Debate Over Education in Pa. Governor’s Race

Three weeks into taking over as Pennsylvania’s governor in 2015, Tom Wolf began his push to send money into public schools across the state.

The plan he announced that day in the Coatesville School District — for a new tax on natural gas drilling — hasn’t been enacted. Nor has his call in his first budget to dramatically ramp up the state’s share of education funding. More dollars have flowed from the state to school districts during Wolf’s tenure. But the increase is less than what he aimed to achieve.

Member Stories

August 10 – August 16
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

In New Orleans, students who drink from a school water fountain may be exposed to lead, reports Marta Jewson of The Lens.

The Washington Post’s Moriah Balingit examines a new legal strategy to improve literacy instruction in resource-deprived schools.

For Parkland students, recovery comes in many forms, reports WLRN’s Jessica Bakeman.

Latest News

Inside the $3 Billion School Security Industry: Companies Market Sophisticated Technology to ‘Harden’ Campuses, but Will It Make Us Safe?

Inside an underground meeting room attached to the U.S. Capitol, past guards and metal detectors, lawmakers and officials from leading security companies discussed a burgeoning threat of mass school shootings and the dire need to “harden” campuses before someone else gets killed.

Latest News

More Schools Are Buying ‘Active-Shooter’ Insurance Policies

School administrators consider the likelihood of a shooting real enough that some districts are buying active-shooter insurance.

The coverage, also called “active-assailant” insurance, gained traction in the past year, following several mass shootings. Schools use it in hopes of avoiding litigation and offsetting costs for counseling services, crisis management and added security after an attack.

Member Stories

July 13 – July 19
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

The Associated Press tracked nearly half a billion dollars that have flowed from philanthropies to charter school organizations, reports Sally Ho.

Rising national debt and a growing elderly population may force drastic cuts to federal programs that serve children, writes John Fensterwald for EdSource.

Education Week’s Madeline Will reports on the unprecedented wave of teachers running for political office.

Seminar

Seminar on the Teaching Profession
Chicago • October 18-19, 2018

From state capitols to the U.S. Supreme Court, teachers are making headlines. Perennial issues like teacher preparation, compensation, and evaluation continue to be debated while a new wave of teacher activism and growing attention to workforce diversity are providing fresh angles for compelling coverage.

Member Stories

July 6 – July 12
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Aditi Malhotra of The Teacher Project profiles a young refugee in Chicago struggling to finish school while supporting family back home.

A debate in New York City about high school admissions raises questions about how to define merit and fairness, writes Stacy Teicher Khadaroo and Harry Bruinius of The Christian Science Monitor.

Latest News

Oklahoma’s Teacher Candidates Surge To November After Success In Primary Elections

Seventy-one teachers in the Sooner State made it through Tuesday’s primary elections — either by besting their opponents outright or moving to a runoff.

The newcomers are seeking to unseat the very lawmakers who challenged their efforts to restore education funding during the teacher walkout this past spring that gripped the state capital for nine days.

Member Stories

May 18-May 24
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media looks at a school safety approach using armed officers on campus. 

Legal definitions can get murky when it comes to investigations of campus sexual assault, writes Eric Kelderman of The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Sally Ho ofthe Associated Press looks at the impact of education funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Teacher Strikes: What Reporters Need to Know

Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky are on the picket lines this week, pushing for better compensation for themselves and more money for schools in their respective states.

These strikes come just weeks after West Virginia’s schools were shuttered statewide for almost two weeks in March, eventually sparking the legislature there to award teachers pay raises.

Such work stoppages are historically rare, but the teachers involved say they were necessary to force resolutions to months - or even years - of stalled negotiations.

Member Stories

March 16 – March 22
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s underdog success story plays out on the court and in the classroom, writes Erica L. Green for The New York Times

 

A new natural gas pipeline could be a boon for a struggling Ohio school district, reports Ashton Marra via State Impact Ohio. 

 

EWA Radio

How Does Your State Fare on the Education Week Report Card?
Nation overall gets 'C' grade; State leadership a factor in slow improvement, experts say (EWA Radio: Episode 155)

image from edweeek.org

Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report offers a wealth of state-level data on students and schools, from academic indicators to equity in funding formulas. But how can reporters make the most of these numbers — and the state rankings — to tell compelling stories about their own local schools? Assistant director Sterling Lloyd and reporter Daarel Burnette join EWA Radio to discuss the national and state-by-state results. Which states made gains, which slipped behind, and why?

Webinar

Pedal to the Metal: Speeding Up Stalled Records Requests

Pedal to the Metal: Speeding Up Stalled Records Requests

You file a freedom of information request with your local school district concerning financial data or a personnel investigation, but months later, there’s still no answer. What are the next steps, especially if your newsroom’s budget can’t stretch to cover the costs of suing for access? A veteran journalist and an expert on records requests offer strategies for success in making inquiries at the federal, state and local levels.

Seminar

71st EWA National Seminar
Los Angeles • May 16-18, 2018

EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This multiday conference provides participants with top-notch training delivered through dozens of interactive sessions on covering education from early childhood through graduate school. Featuring prominent speakers, engaging campus visits, and plentiful networking opportunities, this must-attend conference provides participants with deeper understanding of the latest developments in education, a lengthy list of story ideas, and a toolbox of sharpened journalistic skills.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What is XQ and Why Is It Spending $100 Million to Reinvent High School?
Russlynn Ali discusses the foundation-backed 'Super School' project with journalists

Russlynn Ali, the managing director for education at the Emerson Collective, speaks with  The Hechinger Report's Liz Willen about the foundation's work to transform high school. (Erik Robelen/EWA)

At a gathering of education writers last week, the Emerson Collective’s Russlynn Ali walked not one but several fine lines, promising an “open source” ethos when sharing lessons gleaned from the group’s XQ Super School Project, but declining to commit the private philanthropy to transparency in its political spending and investments in education technology companies.

EWA Radio

The Tax Bill: What Education Reporters Need to Know
Public schools and universities on edge over Republican plan for overhaul

The tax legislation congressional Republicans are rushing to complete has potentially big stakes for education. Critics suggest it will translate into a big financial hit for public schools and universities, as the rules for education-related deductions, revenue-raising bond measures and more are potentially tightened. Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week and Eric Kelderman of The Chronicle of Higher Education offer a primer on the House and Senate versions of the tax-code overhaul, including key differences lawmakers still must hammer out.

Key Coverage

Can These Chicago High Schools Survive?

In Chicago, where funding follows students, Tilden is one of more than a dozen shrinking neighborhood high schools that has been starved of resources, leaving students like Averett to prepare for their futures in largely empty buildings that can make dreaming big a daily struggle.

“Why should we go without because of our student body?” asked Averett, who dreams of attending college and pursuing a career in law enforcement. “I feel like it’s unfair. We should get the high school treatment too. But, you know, it is what it is.”

Key Coverage

Data: U.S. School Buildings: Age, Condition, and Spending

How well are America’s public school buildings and other facilities holding up? How much is the nation spending to build and maintain them? Is it enough? And just who’s bearing the costs?

Here’s some data to fuel that discussion gleaned from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Department of Education, and a 2016 joint report from the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on School Facilities, and the Center for Green Schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Tight Budgets Force Hard Choices Among Child Care Providers
Funding constraints, high cost of quality leave early learning programs feeling squeezed

“An impossible equation.” That’s how Phil Acord describes the challenge of keeping afloat a high-quality early learning program that serves children from low-income families.

As the president of the Chambliss Center for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides around-the-clock care and education to young children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Acord knows well how difficult it can be for child care providers to simply keep their doors open each month.

EWA Radio

When Cyber-Hackers Attack, School Districts Are Paying the Ransom.
Data security, student privacy, employee records at risk

From Georgia to California, school districts are facing a growing security threat: hackers. They target everything from employee payroll accounts to student records, and demand ransom in exchange for not taking advantage of sensitive information. Tawnell Hobbs of The Wall Street Journal discovered that school districts are surprisingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. And many are opting to pay the ransom and not reporting the crime to authorities. Is your school district a target?

Key Coverage

Inside Silicon Valley’s Big-Money Push to Remake American Education

On a chilly winter morning in a tiny pocket of Silicon Valley known as North Fair Oaks, Everest Public High School is buzzing with energy. Out front, a tall, skinny teen jumps out of a black Porsche SUV; moments later, three young women in matching black hoodies stream out of the front seat of a Toyota pickup that’s filled with trowels, buckets, and a ladder.

Key Coverage

How Detroit Students Made a Federal Case Out of the City’s Broken Schools

On the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse, attorneys representing Gov. Rick Snyder argued that the state of Michigan, which has been so intimately involved with Detroit Public Schools for almost 20 years, has no responsibility to ensure students in the district are taught how to read.

EWA Radio

On the Menu: Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts and School Nutrition
EWA Radio: Episode 135

Tovin Lapan of The Hechinger Report visited Greenville, Miss., to examine how President Trump’s proposed budget cuts could impact rural school communities that depend heavily on federal aid for after-school and student nutrition programs. What does research show about the connections between connecting students’ eating habits and test scores?

Webinar

Follow the Money: Digging Into School District Finances

Follow the Money: Digging Into School District Finances

When it comes to school district finances, the numbers aren’t easy to add up. But tracking and analyzing this information is a powerful tool to drive smart news coverage. 

Veteran education journalist Tawnell Hobbs of The Wall Street Journal shares tips and tricks for digging into district operating budgets and actual expenditures, as well as salary databases, overtime requests, check registers and credit card accounts, purchase orders, and more. Learn how to evaluate fiscal data that’s readily available and make the most of open records requests. 

EWA Radio

Betsy DeVos: Many Questions, Few Answers
EWA Radio: Episode 133

Lisa Miller, an associate editor at New York magazine, discusses her new profile of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Miller discusses the unwillingness of people close to DeVos to discuss her on the record — including current Department of Education employees  — made this one of the most challenging profiles she’s ever written. What do we know about DeVos’ vision for the nation’s public schools that we didn’t know six months ago?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

As Pre-K Expands, Divide With Elementary Grades Threatens Success

With enrollment in public prekindergarten programs at a record high, there is a growing emphasis on building stronger connections between children’s early learning experiences and the K-12 system. But bridging the divide between a sector that lacks a coherent structure and the more rigid K-12 system is a challenge rife with logistical as well as philosophical dilemmas.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Five Stories You Might Have Missed This Week

A wrap-up of education news this week involving or affecting Latino students:

Big step for SUNY Albany: Havidán Rodríguez, a higher education leader in Texas, is the first Hispanic president of the State University of New York at Albany. “I am honored and privileged to have been chosen to serve as the University at Albany’s next president,” Rodríguez said.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Data Will Reveal Which Schools Are Winners — and Losers — on School Funding

There are few debates in education as fraught or as important as the fight over how much money to spend on schools — and where to spend it.

Whether a school has the cash to pay for such things as smaller class sizes, extra mental health staff or music instruction depends on decisions made by elected officials at every level of government, from the U.S. House and Senate to local school boards.

EWA Radio

Best on the Beat: Chalkbeat’s Erin Einhorn
EWA Radio: Episode 126

Chalkbeat Detroit reporter Erin Einhorn won an EWA award this spring for outstanding beat reporting. Her enterprising coverage included stories about the impact on communities when neighborhood schools are slated for closure, unconventional methods of filling Head Start staffing vacancies, and how many families struggle to find educational options for their children that are safe, high quality, and — just as importantly — accessible.

EWA Radio

NPR Digs Deep on School Vouchers
EWA Radio: Episode 125

Cory Turner discusses the NPR education team’s deep dive into school vouchers, with a focus on Indiana, home to the largest voucher program in the nation. Among NPR’s findings: less than 1 percent of participating students transferred out of public schools that had been labeled by the state as low performers, and many students using vouchers were already attending private schools. With school choice as a centerpiece to President Trump’s education policy agenda, what does the evidence show when it comes to academic outcomes for students using vouchers?

EWA Radio

A Reality Check on Trump’s Education Budget
EWA Radio: Episode 123

Emma Brown of The Washington Post discusses President Trump’s budget proposal for education, with fresh analysis of the priorities and politics behind the line items. She also explains the prospects in the GOP-led Congress for the Trump plan. Overall, the president’s budget envisions deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education budget, even as he wants to step up federal aid for school choice.  Which education programs are up for major cuts or outright elimination and why? How do some of the largest programs, like Title I aid for disadvantaged students and Pell grants, fare?

EWA Radio

‘Bridging the Divide’ – Can Schools Break Down Racial Barriers?
EWA Radio: Episode 118

A recent Baltimore Sun series by reporters Liz Bowie and Erica Green offers a penetrating look at issues of race and segregation in Maryland public schools. The four-part project, supported by an EWA Reporting Fellowship, examines hurdles to school integration, community resistance to redrawing boundary lines, and how well-intentioned efforts to create more diverse campuses often fall short.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

State Supreme Court: Kansas Shortchanging Schools, Students

When policymakers and advocates refer to education as “a civil rights issue,” fiscal equity is often framed as a piece of that equation. And in a landmark ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the state to address significant shortfalls in how its public schools are funded, citing low academic achievement by black, Hispanic, and low-income students as among the deciding factors.

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?

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Multimedia

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)
Seminar

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?

Multimedia

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.  

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.

Report

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.

Report

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.

Report

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. 

Seminar

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

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).

Multimedia

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
Report

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.

Report

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:

Report

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.

Report

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.

Report

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:

Webinar

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.

Webinar

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?

Multimedia

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.

Multimedia

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.

Report

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.

Webinar

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.

Webinar

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.

Report

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.

Organization

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.

Report

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.

Report

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.

Report

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.

Report

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.

Report

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.