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Friday, March 15, 2013

Put on your thinking cap

A recent ex parte filing by the Superintendent of the Miami-Dade County School District had an attachment that looks like the slide deck from a presentation by Funds for Learning to the Council of Great City Schools.  I dislike slide decks, and I hate slide decks disconnected from the presentations that went with them, but I figured anything by FFL would be filled with pretty graphs in the FFL color scheme with factoids that no one else has compiled.  So I read it.  It's worth looking at.

The core of the presentation was the idea of setting a per-student (or per-patron) cap on funding.  It's an interesting way to redistribute the E-Rate fund.  Basically, the FCC would pick a number (FFL used $160), and schools would only be able to get funding on pre-discount amounts up to that limit.  So if you had a school with 100 kids, you would only be able to get funding on your first $16,000 of expenses.

So what would be the result?  Basically, it distributes Priority Two funding away from 90% applicants and spreads it more evenly.  It sounds fair, but think a little deeper.  Everyone would get an equal amount of funding, but some applicants would be more equal than others.

Small applicants would be disadvantaged.  When it comes to telecom and Internet, there are decidedly economies of scale.  In the bandwidth world, my rule of thumb is that for every tenfold increase in bandwidth, cost doubles.  FFL acknowledges this by giving a per-building minimum, so that a school with only 100 kids would end up getting more per student than a school with 300.  (Small special ed schools, with their flipped student/staff ratios would be really hard hit.)

Rural applicants would be disadvantaged.  They'd get to keep their higher discount, sure, but since the cap is on pre-discount amount, this plan would not really offer any compensation for the higher costs for telecom in rural areas.

So the plan would really benefit large, urban districts.  Wait, for whom was this presentation prepared?

In the past, those Great City districts which have a significant percentage of 90% schools would have lost out, as their P2 gravy train would have been redistributed, but since there is unlikely to be any P2 funding, that gravy train is empty, anyway.

Anyway, it's not a bad plan, but not as good as lowering the top discount rates.  Which brings me to the part of the presentation that got my teeth grinding: on page 30, it says that an across-the-board 10% cut in the discount race would hurt 90% applicants disproportionately because they would have to pay twice what they're paying now.  That's the wrong way to look at it.  What matters is the amount of funding received.  If a 90% applicant went down to 80%, the amount of dollars it would receive from the program would drop by about 11%.  But that 20% applicant dropping to 10% would lose 50% of its funding.

But I don't advocate cutting the discount level for 20% applicants.  Because just as 90% is too close to free, 10% is too close to zero.

I'm not opposed to caps, but I've proposed that the existing soft caps be published.  Just tell applicants that if they spend more than $160 per student, they'll get a Cost-Effectiveness Review.  So people who really need the extra cash would endure the hell of a CER to get it, but most applicants would just spend right up to the limit.  These soft caps exist, but they are secret.

1 comment:

  1. Funds for Learning has released the full presentation and lots of backup info:

    Of particular interest is their analysis of per-student funding:

    As usual, I don't agree completely with their data or analysis, but I don't have better data, and the analysis is pretty sound, so it's well worth reading.