Of all the education changes that Mayor Bloomberg announced in his State of the City address yesterday, the most intriguing was the one about the funding formula. The way the mayor put it was that starting in September, "we're going to fund students instead of schools, basing our investment on the number of students enrolled, and their particular needs." The idea is that if the money follows the student instead of the school, it will be easier for the money to follow the student out of a failing public school and into a better one. One of the reasons this is so explosive is that, at least in theory, the logic could be extended beyond public school choice. If the money is going to follow a student, why not let it follow him or her right into a private independent or parochial school?
So far the mayor and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, have opposed school vouchers, while enthusiastically backing charter schools. But the change they are proposing could one day allow a mayor and schools chancellor who succeed them — perhaps emboldened by the disappointing record of only incremental improvement within the public monopoly system, even under capable management — to try vouchers. Or at least it could give them a wedge for opening up the issue in Albany. The skivvy around the Tweed Courthouse is that the step the mayor has taken is giving the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which fought in court for money that might now be permitted to follow students, the fantods.
That "back door vouchers," as the critics dub the mayor's funding formula, are the most interesting part of the mayor's quite-extensive announcements on education reflects a certain frustration around town with the pace of the changes he has brought about. We have nothing but the highest regard for the mayor and the chancellor. But at a certain point, the bureaucratic restructurings start to wear thin, as do the explanations of them. Messrs. Klein and Bloomberg began by announcing, four years ago, the elimination of 32 school districts and their replacement by 10 regions. After a lawsuit by the principals' union, Messrs. Klein and Bloomberg kept both the regions and the districts in place. Yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg announced the regions would be abolished and replaced by the old districts, whose "32 community school district superintendents will report directly to the Chancellor" and will be supplemented by four "internal learning supporting organizations."
Chester Finn writes in the adjoining columns in support of the city's latest plan for "weighted student funding," which carries a lot of weight with us. But details on the funding plan were scarce yesterday, as our Sarah Garland reports on page one. The longer the bureaucratic adjustments lead to only incremental improvements, the stronger the case for vouchers becomes. If the latest bureaucratic adjustment helps to lay the groundwork for vouchers, it will be an achievement in and of itself, if only on those grounds. Parents, meantime, can wait for next year's State of the City address to see which element of this year's will be cast aside. No one is against experimentation or trial-and-error or a process of continual improvement. The change we are interested in is the one that would allow the improvements and experimentation to be made by the process of unrestricted parental choice rather than centralized decisions by Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein and their deputies, whether there are 10 of them or 32.