As Texas lawmakers consider increasing state education funding, some state education leaders fear a turn to outcome-based funding methods for part of that formula, allocating more money to schools based on 3rd-grade reading test scores and the number of graduating seniors who prove to be college- or career-ready, KCBD reports.
Top state officials have signaled their support for a plan recommended by a state-appointed school finance panel to spend a portion of the recommended education funding — about $800 million — on incentivizing superintendents to improve 3rd-grade reading scores and success rates of high school seniors. A similar idea has been tried in Arizona and appeals to some Texas business leaders and taxpayers looking for a better return on state education investment.
However, many education leaders are concerned such outcomes-based incentives will direct the flow of funds from schools that need it most, creating greater funding inequities between districts, and that it will simply encourage teaching to the tests or attempts to game the system. Texas has never tied funding to school performance before, and despite recommendations, lawmakers have yet to propose a bill in support.
As more states begin to take a hard look at education funding, the debate on how that funding should be used continues. Tight state budgets mean lawmakers — and taxpayers — are looking for the best return on investment for all money they spend. In a business sense, this means looking at outcomes to measure ROI.
However, students are not products, and treating them as such can cause problems where funding is concerned. Students who need the most help require the most resources. In that sense, outcome-based funding has its limitations. While outcome-based funding can encourage district leaders to use their money more wisely in some ways, it comes with the implicit idea that school superintendents must somehow be encouraged to want more 3rd-graders to read and more seniors to be prepared for success in life. In reality, school leaders want these outcomes anyway.
Outcome-based funding has been used in higher education for some time. While some studies show this has improved graduation and retention rates, educators have questioned the effect this has had on equity issues. In K-12 education, achievement tests often become the measure of success, but even these tests don't always measure student growth or more intangible qualities like creativity. Focusing on tests as measures of success also tends to encourage teaching to the test to the detriment of well-rounded education.
District leaders need to keep an eye on funding issues in their states and make their voice heard in the process. While outcomes may have a role to play in a total funding formula, school leaders also have to keep the needs of students foremost in the discussion. Making sure there are demonstrable results to show existing funds are spent as wisely as possible in the pursuit of equitable, high-quality education is key to making lawmakers more confident about sending additional funds.