School “Pay for Performance” Plan Shorts Low-Income, Urban Students
In his proposed budget, Governor Walker recommends setting aside a portion of education funding to distribute to schools based on their performance. While this proposal might sound attractive on the surface, it will result in significant funding increases for schools with few low-income students, disabled students, or English language learners. Schools with larger percentages of those students would be allocated a much smaller share of funding.
The Governor is advocating allocating the following amounts for schools over the coming two-year budget period, based on a school report card accountability measure developed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:
- $24 million for schools that score in the highest category in DPI’s school report cards;
- $30 million for schools that improve their score on the school report cards by at least three points over the previous year; and
- $10 million for schools that score in the category of “fails to meet expectations,” if the school submits an improvement plan that is approved by DPI.
The disparities in the student population in the schools, and the higher dollar amount allocated for high-rated schools means that low-income students get relatively little out of this deal. Only one year of school report card data has been published so far, so it’s hard to know what kind of schools would be eligible for the money allocated for schools that improve their score. But we can make some generalizations on how the money would be distributed among the best- and worst-rated schools based using 2011-12 school report cards.
It’s clear that the schools with the highest scores on the school report card educate a very different population than the schools that score the lowest. Students attending the lowest-rated schools are four times as likely as students in high-performing schools to be economically disadvantaged, twice as likely to be disabled, and more than twice as likely to have limited English proficiency, as shown in the chart below.
In Wisconsin, one out of every 9 low-income students attends a struggling school. For students that are not low-income, one out of every 67 students attends a struggling school. Twice as many students are enrolled in the lowest-rated schools than in the highest-rated schools.
High-rated schools are also located in different geographical areas than low-performing schools. About one out of every five high-performing schools is located in a city, while nine out of ten low-performing schools are located in a city, as shown in the chart below.
It’s not likely the Governor’s budget plan will do much to encourage excellence in schools. After all, the highest-rated schools, which get the most money per student, achieved that rating without any monetary incentive from the state. One thing the plan could do, though, is widen the achievement gap between schools in well-off suburban or rural districts and struggling schools in urban areas. By focusing resources on schools that already have already achieved the highest rating, we make equality of opportunity that much harder to achieve in our schools.
The Governor’s plan to reward the highest-rated districts and provide much lower levels of assistance to struggling schools would weaken Wisconsin’s commitment to ensuring that school districts have access to relatively equal resources. The bulk of the money will go to the schools that need it the least, and schools that educate the most challenging students will receive relatively little. Concentrating our resources on the highest-rated schools and giving relatively little to struggling schools is likely to worsen the achievement gap rather than improve it.