Miller: Texas’s Bold Plan Linking Funding to Academic Outcomes Should Yield Big Gains for Students, Especially Those at Risk
In the vast state of Texas, policymakers are taking bold steps to prioritize education. The Texas Commission on Public School Finance has recommended a substantial increase of $800 million per year in funding for college readiness and third-grade reading proficiency. This move towards outcomes-based funding is one of the largest and most ambitious in the country. The impact is expected to be significant, particularly for at-risk students, who will see even greater improvements.
Texas has a history of linking public funding with desired outcomes. Back in 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature implemented a policy where community colleges receive additional funding for each student who achieves certain milestones, such as grade completion. Currently, 10% of community college funding in Texas is based on outcomes, and for technical colleges, a staggering 88% of the budget is tied to student outcomes. The Texas Association of Community Colleges fully supports these outcomes-based funding policies and calls for their expansion.
Texas is not alone in its approach to tie funding for primary and secondary education to student outcomes. Other states like Arizona, Ohio, and New Hampshire have also adopted similar policies. In Florida, my home state, the Early Learning Performance Funding Project provides additional resources to early child care providers, resulting in a 23% improvement in academic outcomes for at-risk students.
Over the past decade, I have extensively examined the research and experiences of states implementing outcomes-based funding in public education. As the dean of the School of Education at Florida SouthWestern State College, a public college partially funded based on outcomes, I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of this policy. It has led to changes in administrative practices, increased investment in advising staff, and a 15% rise in the graduation rate. Notably, these gains were even greater among low-income students and students of color.
Both personal experiences and academic evidence strongly support the potential of outcomes-based funding to enhance student achievement. The key lies in designing the system effectively, and Texas’s proposal undoubtedly meets that criterion.
Under the proposed system, districts will receive a minimum of $1,450 for each student who achieves proficiency in third-grade reading. For students from low-income families, the district will receive $3,400. This represents a substantial 24% increase in base funding for literacy instruction, which will be a permanent component of the overall system. These funding levels far exceed the 10 to 15% benchmark that has shown to influence behavior and drive positive outcomes, as demonstrated in the modeling tool developed by ExcelinEd.
Importantly, these reading standards can be tied to various measures of skill mastery, rather than relying solely on standardized tests. However, these measures must be rigorous and resistant to manipulation.
The Texas proposal also includes a similar funding model for high school seniors who graduate without needing remediation and go on to enroll in postsecondary education, obtain an industry-accepted certificate, or join the military.
One of the most beneficial aspects of this proposal is the generous funding allocated to at-risk students, who require additional resources to meet state standards. The Texas proposal includes over 200% more funding for successful at-risk students, significantly surpassing the typical 22% spent by states on these students. This provision encourages districts to actively recruit and retain these historically challenging-to-reach student populations.
This comprehensive proposal is projected to raise student achievement levels throughout Texas, benefiting all students, not just those deemed at risk. Additionally, it aims to narrow the achievement gap between at-risk students and their more affluent peers.
Across different states, there is a growing interest in funding educational outcomes rather than simply investment inputs. Prioritizing payment based on student performance and success, rather than seat time, is regarded as a more sensible approach. This approach aligns with the idea that linking payment to performance provides an incentive for better outcomes, a practice that has proven effective in higher education and other industries nationwide.
Although outcomes-based funding has been embraced in various sectors, nowhere else in the country has it been integrated as extensively into the funding formula of a state’s public K-12 education system. The future holds great promise for the children of Texas, and other states would do well to observe and learn from this innovative approach.
Dr. Larry Miller is the dean of the School of Education, Charter Schools, and the Accelerated Pathways Program at Florida SouthWestern State College. He also serves as a research affiliate at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington and Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab.
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