Since retiring in July as superintendent of the Gainesville, Ga., schools, Dr. Merrianne Dyer has been consulting in other states through both the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson and the Scholastic Community Affairs division.
Here is a column she wrote on programs that hold promise of breaking down funding and programmatic silos in education.
By Merrianne Dyer
“The real difficulty in changing the course of any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas but in escaping the old ones.” This statement by British economist John Maynard Keynes should be considered as the funding formula for Georgia education is studied and re-evaluated.
Do we have practices in place that systematically analyze and then dedicate funding to overcoming our barriers, or does funding follow formulas dictated by policy compliance?
There clearly is a need to reexamine Georgia’s 1985 Quality Basic Education funding However, if we approach it with the same fundamental idea, we will fail in developing a formula that will best serve Georgia’s schools.
Georgia schools have plenty of “parts,” a multitude of policy, programs, and practices in the instructional realm, from non-profits, the governor’s office and state and federal programs. The problem lies in that these parts predominantly work in silos and the work and funds are fragmented.
There is a need to focus on systematic organizational management to bring these parts together to plan holistically to leverage funding to address the barriers of our current reality.
Georgia now has the sixth highest childhood poverty rate in the nation, according to the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey Profile. The Southern Education Foundation reports 57 percent of Georgia’s students are considered low-income.
Eighty-seven percent of the school districts in Georgia serve a majority of low-income students. Since Georgia is a leader in attracting business, many schools also face a higher degree of mobility as families relocate here for jobs. The combination of increasing poverty and mobility presents basic challenges.
Developing children of low-wealth and unstable backgrounds into productive and responsible working citizens is critical in maintaining the social and fiscal well-being in our state. Therefore, our collective focus and concern in Georgia should be on the barriers our children are experiencing and putting comprehensive systems in support to break down those barriers.
Funding policy now follows prescribed and rigid guidelines for individual students with parameters as to how the funds can be spent. We might consider a shift to the new idea of using those funds to create more flexible and differentiated school environments.
For example, braiding the School Improvement and 21st Century funds with state dollars would more efficiently and effectively serve a school rather than expending funds using the “rules” of all three.
Important consideration should also be given to removing the compliance demands from teachers and schools that interfere with their critical work with children and that have not shown they improve learning outcomes.
Recent state policy revisions, like the Georgia Juvenile Justice Code, explicitly call for a comprehensive school-community support system that focuses on prevention and intervention. However, states and local school districts continue to operate primarily in departmental fragmentation with separate funding streams.
They struggle to develop an established systematic way to collaborate and utilize the resources together. As states and local school districts explore the way to bring about more holistic methods, promising models are emerging.
Under the leadership of Tommy Bice, state superintendent of schools, and Linda Felton Smith, director of learning supports, Alabama has included a comprehensive system of learning supports for students in its Four Pillars of the Strategic Plan. To put this plan into action, the Alabama Department of Education is implementing a common, state-wide method so the agency and local superintendents can operate in a common framework.
Alabama has training and supports in place in 40 districts and will continue to extend the work over the next three years until all districts are able to sustain and operate in the framework. The process begins with an analysis as to how the state and district are now using program funds and practices, identifies redundancies and waste and then moves to developing a new operational system that focuses on removing and addressing any barriers.
Since the work began, Alabama has seen a 25 percent decrease in their rate of student absentees in the pilot schools. The work in the learning supports framework has contributed to an increase in the four-year cohort graduation rate from 72 percent to 80 percent statewide.
Louisiana has also done considerable work with this framework and has a method of reducing the rigid funding requirements so that school districts and state departments can braid federal and state funds in education, health and human services. The use of a unified system of learning supports framework reduces financial waste.
The most well-intended policies and practices will never reach full potential if not implemented in a comprehensive and unified system. As we move forward in Georgia, new leaders must realize their work is to mobilize all players: schools, families, and communities, to guide a systematic process to focus on using the resources we have not to simply comply with regulations but to address barriers and move Georgia’s children forward. It is a matter of both financial and social equity.