Quality, Equity, Efficiency, Evaluation, And Local Flexibility: The Political And Educational Dilemmas Of Iowa's Foundation Plan
During the 1970's the State of Iowa has exercised a high degree of budget control over its public elementary and secondary schools. Five guiding principles, developed by the Governor's Educational Advisory Committee for improving education for Iowans, led to the development of the Foundation Plan and has since provided the basis and the support for State legislative and executive action to meet the educational responsibility to its citizens. Voluntary reorganization, causing a drastic reduction in the number of districts, was to have occurred, and a mandatory reorganization law is now being considered. The problem. The primary task was to develop a definition for quality education to be used for comparing programs being offered in different size rural school districts. The second task was to show what progress has been achieved on a statewide basis toward providing tax and expenditure equity. The third task was to define efficiency and to determine if the State's insistence upon efficiency was brought about major voluntary reorganization. The fourth task was to look at the problem of providing citizens with meaningful evaluation of local districts. The fifth task was to define local flexibility, to show what flexibility(ies) exist within the Foundation Plan, and to illustrate to what extent schools have opted to use them. Procedure. The review of related literature presents an historical study of the theoretical development of state finance plans, the court's influence on finance reform, and authoritative views on quality, efficiency, and local flexibility. Forty-three items of data were collected on each of the eighteen randomly selected rural school districts from State Department of Public Instruction reports and through administering student, teacher, and parent survey instruments (designed by the researcher to reflect elements of satisfaction viewed by authorities as being important) to selected populations within each district. The districts were grouped into categories of three sizes. ANOVA tests were used to determine if there were significant differences in levels of satisfaction by size; t-tests for determining where differences existed; z-tests for determining where significant differences existed in average daily attendance and student participation in extra-curricular activities; and Pearson correlation tests for determining correlations between size and the other variables of educational input and output. A correlation matrix table was used to illustrate the intercorrelations among all variables. Conventionally accepted levels of probability were used throughout the study for determining significance. Findings. (Quality) The output of an educational program best reflects its quality. School district quality can be measured in terms of student retention, student participation, graduate productivity, citizen satisfaction, and parent willingness to financially support schools. Students in districts with below 750 enrollments expressed higher levels of satisfaction with their schools. Teachers in those districts expressed a higher level of satisfaction than did teachers in districts of 1000-1999. Larger districts displayed the following significant characteristics: They offered their students more units, paid their teachers higher salaries, and bad lower costs per pupil. Smaller districts had smaller pupil-teacher ratios; greater student retention rates, knew a greater percentage of the graduates' status, bad higher levels of student satisfaction because of teacher assistance and personal interest, and their recognition for school accomplishments, bad higher levels of parent satisfaction with their school, their children's opportunities in extra-curricular activities, and a greater willingness to vote for increased school taxes. Statewide data revealed that rural districts in smaller size cohorts have lower dropout rates; higher graduate productivity in terms of employment percentages and percentage of graduates going on for post-secondary training; and higher standardized achievement scores in the 70th, 80th, and 90th percentiles. Smaller schools had greater student participation in extra-curricular activities. (Equity) Iowa is the fourth most equalized state in the union in terms of expenditure equity and substantial progress has been made toward achieving tax equity. (Efficiency) Efficiency must be measured in terms of what is being received for dollars spent. Higher per pupil cost districts characteristically had higher student retention rates; higher average student daily attendance; greater student pride in their school; and higher levels of parent satisfaction with their school and that their tax dollars were being put to good use by their schools. (Evaluation) The State basically collects input data on schools for purposes of evaluating them. In terms of quality output, citizens have no better knowledge today than they did five years ago concerning the relative standing of their district. (Local Flexibility) Local flexibility must be associated with local budget control. Iowa's plan provides for a limited additional enrichment tax. Six schools, all with enrollments below 350 and having an eighty percent local effort support, have elected to use this means of local budget flexibility. Conclusions. Based upon the results of this study, Iowa's smaller rural school districts deserve more political and educational attention and credit for offering quality educational opportunities to their students. Alternatives to reorganization should be considered in order to preserve the positive thing's that are coming out of these districts. The findings would support a movement toward the decentralization of larger units rather than the consolidation of smaller units.
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