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Squeezing lemonade (lemon-aid?) out of budget cut lemons

Writing at the Huffington Post, former Gates Foundation honcho Tom Vander Ark suggests a radical response to education budget cuts that could actually gain traction in New York City:

While far from easy, states with courageous governors could use this crisis to make a radical change: cut the budget by 10% and send the money directly to schools. Every school would get a three year performance contract (i.e., charter) and would be required to join a support network (which could include what used to be a school district, a university, a non-profit like New Tech Foundation, a charter management organization like Green Dot, a for-profit like Edison Learning, or a self-organized coop).

New York City schools already get to choose exactly how much bureaucratic support they want by selecting from a menu of support organizations, and paying the fee the organization (Empowerment? New Visions? Knowledge Network?) charges. What if a school could also select a new menu option: no bureaucracy at all? Some schools strongly rely on their support organizations — after Empowerment chief Eric Nadelstern offered a plan to let high-performing schools opt out of the bureaucracy, only five schools took him up on it, he told me recently. But I’ve heard of other schools that barely speak to their support organization, much less take them up on the programs that come with their fees.

The Department of Education’s budget czar, Kathleen Grimm, said last week at a City Council hearing that officials will consider such an option. From my live-blogging:

3:06 p.m. A council member summarized the new empowerment budgeting that allows school to pick a support organization to be work with, paying a fee for each organization depending on their preference. The organizations then provide help with professional development and budgeting. The member said he likes that new setup, but wonders whether the empowerment idea could be expanded, so that schools could opt out of paying for support services altogether. Why not really do it? he asked, adding that he visited several schools recently that said they would rather spend the money on something else, like a new art teacher. Grimm said that is something the Department of Education is considering.

(Vander Ark article via Small Talk.)