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April 28, 2008

1)  California and Arkansas School District Statistics Posted. EIA has updated district enrollment, teacher workforce, spending and labor cost statistics for California and Arkansas, using the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education's Common Core of Data. Both Arkansas' 252 districts and California's 1,019 districts are listed in order of enrollment size.

Observers with specific knowledge of those districts will no doubt find nuggets of their own, but the following caught my eye:

* Between 2001 and 2006, enrollment in Arkansas' Bentonville district increased by more than 46 percent, while the number of teachers increased by almost 51 percent.

* In a state long known for low school expenditures, per-pupil spending in the Little Rock school district reached $9,973 in 2006 – more than $800 above the national average.

* Overall enrollment growth in the state of California is stagnant, but that hides the volatile movements from district to district. There are districts with significant drops in enrollment (San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland), and others with huge spikes in enrollment (Elk Grove, Corona, Kern).

* Clovis Unified is now the 20th largest school district in the state, and noteworthy because its 1,800 teachers do not have, and have never had, a union.

The tables are located at District statistics for all other states will be added over the next several weeks.

2)  Did School District Boundaries Lead to Mortgage Crunch? That's the provocative thesis of Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank. Writing in the April 27 Washington Post, Frank suggests families fell victim to overborrowing in order to get their kids into better public schools:

"It is no surprise that two-income families would choose to spend much of their extra income on better education. And because the best schools are in the most expensive neighborhoods, the imperative was clear: To gain access to the best possible public school, you had to purchase the most expensive house you could afford.

"But what works for any individual family does not work for society as a whole. The problem is that a 'good' school is a relative concept: It is one that is better than other schools in the same area. When we all bid for houses in better school districts, we merely bid up the prices of those houses….

"The best jobs go to graduates from the best colleges, and because only the best-prepared students are accepted to those colleges, it is quixotic to expect parents to bypass an opportunity to send their children to the best elementary and secondary schools they can. The financial deregulation that enabled them to bid ever larger amounts for houses in the best school districts essentially guaranteed a housing bubble that would leave millions of families dangerously overextended.

"Congress should not bail out speculators and fraudulent borrowers. But neither should it be too quick to condemn families that borrowed what the lending system offered rather than send their children to inferior schools."

You don't have to agree with Frank's analysis to recognize that literal "school choice" is already a reality for those with the means to live where they please. Any effort that expands choices for those who can't afford to move to a better neighborhood should be encouraged.

3)  That's Why It's Called the Golden State. In an effort to prepare members for a dues increase, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Treasurer David Goldberg helpfully published a table in the April 18 United Teacher comparing UTLA dues to those of New York City and other large locals in California. EIA reproduces it here:

New York City - $1,100

Long Beach - $1,030

Oakland - $988

Corona - $984

Elk Grove - $979.60

San Francisco - $967

San Diego - $963.70

San Bernardino - $959.70

Santa Ana - $953

Sacramento - $948

Fresno - $901.60

UTLA - $689.04

4)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from April 22-28:

* Obama: Democratic Party Line = Teachers' Union? Can Obama really have it both ways on merit pay?

* Labor Bills Getting Mixed Reception. Democratic state legislators getting cold feet?

* Seniors Without Seniority. What goes around comes around.

5)  Quote of the Week. "Unions do a lousy job telling our story because credit is not what we are about. We are about getting the job done." – David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan (April 24 Detroit News)

"This workshop will focus on two strategies that will assist local unions in building coalitions in the community (through positive PR). The objective is to build a 'friendly' base that will be informed and more willing to help support the local union when the time comes." – from a description of an AFT Michigan "Community Outreach Initiative (Public Relations) Workshop" held on April 12, part of "Strengthening the Union/Collective Bargaining Agenda."


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