Home > Uncategorized > NYS’s Hold Harmless Provision Proves that Money DOES Make a Difference

NYS’s Hold Harmless Provision Proves that Money DOES Make a Difference

September 4, 2018

When states wrestle with ways to equalize funding, one of the problems they face is how to deal with district who would end up with less revenue if the existing funds were redistributed using a formula that is more equitable. The legislative workaround is the introduction of “hold harmless provisions” that guarantee that no matter what happens in the future, no district will lose any state revenue.

When NYS enacted their most recent effort to reallocate funds, they included such a provision, which ended up protecting those districts that were experiencing enrollment declines. This provided an opportunity for Philip Gigliotti and Lucy Sorensen of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany to do a real world investigation of the effect of increasing per pupil spending on test scores. Here’s what they found as reported in Chalkbeat:

Set to be published in the peer-reviewed Economics of Education Review, the study takes advantage of a provision in the state’s funding formula known as “Save Harmless” that allows districts to maintain their funding even if they lose students. Since many districts across the state have suffered enrollment declines, they have boosted the amount of money they spend per student. (New York City was excluded from the study because of its unusually large size and technical issues matching its data with other districts.)

By comparing districts that lost students — resulting in more money spent per remaining student — with those that saw smaller declines, the researchers were able to isolate the effect of the funding increases. Using data from 2007 through 2015, they found that a $1,000 in increase  per student corresponded with an increase of one-seventh of a grade level in math and one-ninth of a grade level in English.(On average, districts spend just over $23,000 per student across the state, a 15 percent increase since 2007.)

“The fact that we find positive effects of increased spending even in New York State, which boasts the highest per-pupil spending in the country, suggests that resources are important even above some adequacy threshold,” wrote co-authors Philip Gigliotti and Lucy Sorensen…

Chalk beat writer Alex Zimmerman DOES note that there are some caveats that education policy makers Gigliotti and Sorenson advance:

First, their study focuses on districts that lost enrollment, mostly in upstate New York. That means their findings could be less relevant among districts that have seen enrollment hold steady or even increase.

Second, there could be factors associated with declining enrollment that the study doesn’t account for. While the authors control for changes in student demographics associated with the enrollment declines, other factors that could contribute to changes in performance, such as student motivation, are more difficult to measure.

Third, it’s hard to know why the spending increases boosted student achievement. One possible answer is that many of the schools reduced class sizes, the authors note, which has been linked to gains in student achievement. But the study does not focus on how the funding was spent and what drove the gains in student learning.

Finally, the authors caution against interpreting their results as evidence that increased funding is a silver bullet, especially in reducing disparities in student achievement between students of different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds. Increasing per-student spending by $1,000 would only close the national gap between rich and poor students by roughly 5 percent, Gigliotti said.

“These effects are moderate,” he added. “They don’t imply that achievement gaps are something we can overcome by just spending our way out of the problem.”

While they don’t offer proof that increased funding will invariably result in better academic performance as measured by standardized tests, they clearly do not provide evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, they might provide an opportunity for further research on those districts that experienced the greatest gains to determine what drove the gains in student learning, because I am confident that whatever it was, it was enhanced by additional per pupil spending… additional per pupil spending that would greatly benefit those property poor districts who are spending far less per pupil.

 

 

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