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Monday, August 14, 2017

Public School Funding is a National Disgrace

From Education Week

By David G. Sciarra
July 27, 2017

More than 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education, public school funding continues to be unfair and inequitable in most states, shortchanging 50 million public school students.



Unlike in many other nations, public education in the United States is a state and local matter. State and local funding accounts for approximately 90 percent of all education funding in public schools.

But unfair school funding remains entrenched in many states, impeding efforts to improve outcomes for students, especially poor children, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.

The deplorable condition of state public school finance is laid bare in the “National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?” released early this year by my organization, the Education Law Center. The report analyzes both the level of funding for all students in each state and whether funding increases in districts with high enrollments of poor students.

Here are some key takeaways from the “National Report Card”:
  • A wide gulf remains in how much states invest in public education, ranging from $18,165 per pupil in New York to a low of $5,838 in Idaho, when adjusted for regional differences. Most states also fail to allocate more funding to high-poverty districts.
  • Twenty-one states, including Arizona, Illinois, and Virginia, have “regressive” school funding, which means they provide less funding to their high-need districts.
  • Fifteen states, including California, Michigan, and South Carolina, have “flat” funding, failing to allocate additional funds to address the academic, social, and health needs of students in their poorest schools.
  • Four other states, notably Colorado and Tennessee, do send modestly more funds to poor schools, but rank poorly in overall spending.
  • Very few states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey, have a school funding system that can be considered fair, with high funding overall and increased funding for student poverty.
  • Nevada is the nation’s most unfair state, with low spending and less money for a burgeoning population of poor students and English-language learners.
  • Some states with unfair finance systems, such as Colorado, Florida, and Texas, have economies that can support greater investment, but the state legislatures are simply unwilling to do so.

"The sad fact is that most states still fund schools according to how much states are willing to spend."

This isn’t just about dollars. The level of funding determines whether effective teachers, Advanced Placement classes, guidance counselors, extra learning time, preschool programs, and other essential resources are available in the nation’s classrooms.

The sad fact is that most states still fund schools according to how much states are willing to spend, usually based on last year’s budget, and then distribute funding to satisfy the demands of powerful political constituencies. Only a handful have enacted finance reforms driven by the actual cost of basic education resources.

In many states, elected officials continue to resist school funding reform, even in the face of court orders, and governors in some states are fighting funding lawsuits rather than using the courts to leverage legislative action.

It is not an overstatement to say that unfair school funding is our biggest obstacle to advancing equal opportunity and improved outcomes, especially for vulnerable children. It’s time to put this issue at the top of the national education agenda.

David G. Sciarra is the executive director of the Education Law Center and a co-author of the "National Report Card."

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