Who Is In Charge

Lobato 8/17: Costs of dropping out

The costs of low educational achievement and the mixed history of legislative school funding efforts were the focus of the Lobato trial Wednesday.

Lobato v. State illustrationHenry Levin, an education economist from Columbia University, testified all morning about a study he did on the personal and social costs triggered by failing to complete high school, as well as the benefits of higher levels of education to both individuals and the economy.

The tone shifted from the economic to the political later in the day, when two former legislators testified about legislative attitudes on the school finance system and, on cross-examination, state lawyers tried a couple of tricks to trip up the witnesses. (See MANEUVERING item below.)

Levin was the latest in a series of expert witnesses called by the plaintiffs in the Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit, which challenges the adequacy of the state’s school funding system.

Other experts have testified about the costs of meeting state academic requirements, providing early childhood education, helping at-risk students and serving disabled students. (See our archive of trial stories.)

With Levin, plaintiffs’ lawyers seemed to be trying to make the case for increased education spending because of its economic benefits – spending that increases the number of high school graduates ultimately reduces governmental and social costs and yields economic benefits for individuals and the state as whole.

Levin’s testimony tracked an 80-page report he and Professor Clive Belfield of the City University of New York prepared for the plaintiffs for a $15,000 fee.

Henry Levin
Henry Levin

Key points of that report are:

• Lifetime earnings grow with education. The report estimates those at $459,200 for a high school dropout and $696,300 for a higher school graduate. The report used high school graduation as the benchmark for educational attainment. Earnings are higher for people with some college and with college degrees.

• Lack of high school diplomas costs the state. A person who fails to graduate from high school imposes a fiscal burden of $140,100 on the state, in terms of government services provided to that person minus taxes paid.

• The broader social-burden cost of a dropout, factoring in such things as workforce productivity, lost economic opportunities because of a badly trained workforce and costs of crime, is calculated at $524,400.

• The report said expanded preschool opportunities, higher teacher salaries, small class sizes and some high school reforms can increase high school graduation rates. “The benefits of these investments (estimated at $74,400 per student) significantly exceed the costs. … Spending on education – particularly on reforms that raise high school graduation rates – should be viewed as a public investment, yielding a stream of benefits across decades,” the report concludes.

Highlights of the day:

TONE: Levin’s testimony had the air of a fairly interesting economics class; the cross-examination of former state Sen. Sue Windels and former Rep. Jack Pommer in the afternoon had the whiff of a debate tournament.


  • “I try not to write on areas in which I don’t have at least a little expertise.” – Levin
  • “Colorado’s level of spending is basically the same as Alabama’s, the same as Arkansas.” – Levin
  • “Bake sales weren’t going to solve this problem of chronic underfunding.” – Windels said of the realization she had after starting to study school finance.

Former Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder

MANEUVERING: The plaintiffs’ lawyers basically put Windels (former chair of the Senate Education Committee) and Pommer (former chair of the Joint Budget Committee) on the stand to testify about a 2005 legislative school finance study and the fact that it didn’t lead to substantial legislation. They also were asked about whether the legislature ever had studied the true costs of K-12 education (they said it hasn’t) and about their definitions of a “thorough and uniform” system of schools, as required by the state constitution.

On cross-examination, state lawyers Jonathan Fero and Nick Heinke essentially asked if the two had violated their oaths to uphold the state constitution by voting for school finance bills they believed violated the thorough and uniform clause.

There were lots of objections from plaintiffs’ lawyers, some upheld and others not, and careful answers from Windels and Pommer.

Pommer had a practical answer: “If I think a bill is moving in the right direction … then I would support it” but that he wouldn’t vote for something that had been ruled unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court. “We live in a political environment, and we have to compromise.”

DOCUMENTS: Much of Windels’ and Pommer’s testimony focused on a 2005 school finance report by the legislative study committee. You can read it here.

UPCOMING: On Thursday, lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are expected to begin presenting their case. They represent a separate group of plaintiffs that includes parents from four high-poverty school districts – Greeley, Mapleton, Rocky Ford and Sheridan.

Thursday’s witnesses may include some of the plaintiffs, Sheridan Superintendent Michael Clough and Kathy Escamilla from the CU-Boulder School of Education.

On Friday, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond is scheduled to testify for both sets of plaintiffs, talking about the issues and costs involved in educator effectiveness. (Read her pretrial report.)

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”


Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”