Bend-La Pine hurt by new poverty metric

State updates funding distribution rules

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

Published Jan 29, 2014 at 12:01AM

The State Board of Education is changing the way it allocates funds to help districts assist impoverished students, causing Bend-La Pine Schools to take a significant cut in state funding, while other Central Oregon districts will experience an increase.

Until this change, the state allocated poverty funding based on data from the 2000 census. As a result, for the last 13 years, districts with higher rates of poverty in 2000 received more funding regardless of demographic changes. The Oregon Department of Education requested the state legislature pass a bill allowing the state to base funding on more timely numbers. House Bill 2098, which passed in 2013, allowed the State Board of Education to adopt a new metric, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income Poverty Estimate (SAIPE), which uses IRS data, the census and the Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program, among others, to estimate the number of students living in poverty.

Based on the new poverty calculation, Bend-La Pine is set to lose $279,886 in the coming school year, despite SAIPE finding the district to have a higher number of impoverished students than during the 2000 census. The district is receiving less money because the overall number of impoverished students in Oregon has risen at a faster rate than within Bend-La Pine.

Due to this overall increase in poverty, the amount of funding available per student has shrunk. Crook, Culver, Redmond, Jefferson county and Sisters school districts are all receiving more total money, as the increase in poverty experienced by those districts offset the decrease stemming from the lower per-student allocation.

“Our goal is deliver funds in a way that supports equity, and part of that is ensuring that districts who have more students in poverty receive additional resources to support learning,” said Crystal Greene, ODE communications director. “From all the research we’ve done, SAIPE is the most accurate model out there, and we believe it’s important to move away from using data that is 13 years old. Since that census, a lot has changed; we’ve had two recessions and people have moved around the state.”

Ron Wilkinson, superintendent of Bend-La Pine Schools, questions the accuracy and efficacy of SAIPE data.

“We certainly don’t question that we need a new way to calculate poverty,” Wilkinson said. “I think it’s important that we use current data, but the issue here is whether or not this new formula will actually help the state get money to impoverished students.”

Wilkinson said the marginal increase in Bend-La Pine’s poverty count since 2000 found by ODE didn’t jive with his perception of a “dramatic increase.” He also critiqued the funding volatility created by taking a measure each year.

“Looking at the year-to-year data, there are big swings in the amount of funding a district can receive,” he said. “Funding translates into teaching positions, and it’s hard to build anything that’s really targeting kids when the money could be gone the next year. The funding comes from a formula, and so money given for poverty doesn’t even have to be spent on poverty. With such big changes, it may just get tucked into a district’s general fund.”

As an alternative, Wilkinson suggested the state introduce some measure to stabilize fluctuations while also responding to changes in poverty on a year-to-year basis.

Michael Elliott, ODE’s state school fund coordinator, defended the accuracy of SAIPE.

“It’s a good measure because it uses a lot of different economic data sets to try to look at what’s happening at the local level,” he said. “We knew there would be less stability, as nothing would be as stable as a measure that didn’t change. However, we also wanted a higher degree of accuracy, so money could follow the students who need it.”

Elliott also acknowledged one of Wilkinson’s concerns — the rise of school choice in Oregon, which allows students to attend schools in districts where they do not reside.

“SAIPE has no way to take into account student choice, but as open enrollment becomes bigger and we have better data, we will use it to fine-tune the information on poverty,” Elliott said.

In Redmond, where the change to SAIPE will bring in almost $2 million in additional funds, there was less controversy over the new metric.

“It’s hard to say this is a good thing, because it means we have a significant number of students living in poverty, which brings a whole bunch of issues,” said Kathy Steinert, Redmond’s director of fiscal services. “But we are happy the demographics in our community are being properly accounted for.”

With the added funding, Steinert said Redmond will take a close look at what it can do with instructional technology.

“That’s definitely an area we are going to look at — how do we begin to provide the resources for a 21st-century education in the classroom that can benefit all students, especially those with added challenges,” Steinert said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

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