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Report urges federal action on equitable funding for schools

Source: Compiled by USCCR from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data “National Public Education Financial Survey” fiscal year 2014, and NCES, “Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education School Year 2013-14” p.5 Table 1. The graph is derived from one published by USCCR p.28, http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2018-01-10-Education-Inequity.pdf.
Source: Compiled by USCCR from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data “National Public Education Financial Survey” fiscal year 2014, and NCES, “Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education School Year 2013-14” p.5 Table 1. The graph is derived from one published by USCCR p.28, http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2018-01-10-Education-Inequity.pdf.

The federal government must take “bold action” to make education funding more equitable, says a recent report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. To start, Congress should boost funding to states and districts that show they are devoting more resources to programs and facilities for underserved students, the January 2018 report says.

“The report can help districts situate themselves within the larger context and spark conversations about unfair patterns,” says Janie Tankard Carnock, an education policy analyst with the think tank New America.

Tracking equity

The commission’s report also recommends that Congress collect, monitor and evaluate school spending data to see what funds directly impact student outcomes. While districts are already required to report school spending to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, many still struggle with the process.

“In the coming years, schools will face a much greater degree of public scrutiny, so it will be critical for local leaders to control the narrative about spending,” says Carnock.

Districts that receive equity funding should distribute dollars based on student need by school—not by district, says Jessica Gartner, CEO and founder of Allovue, an edtech company that helps K12 educators allocate financial resources.

“It’s difficult to break down the equity of dollars when they’re reported centrally,” she says. “Allocating funds to individual schools will make reporting easier and will help with analyzing which resources are generating the most outcomes districtwide.”

To better track equity, Gartner recommends directing 80 to 90 percent of dollars to individual schools. Districts can report other expenses, such as a superintendent’s salary, centrally.

Funding increases show results. States that have overhauled education funding through legislation and court orders have seen improvements in student performance, according to a 2015 study by the University of California, Berkeley.

Taking action

Three years ago, Superintendent Laurence T. Spring of Schenectady City School District in New York took a proactive approach by filing a complaint against the state for underfunding poor districts. Spring downloaded the state’s data and discovered that New York districts with more black students received less state aid.

“It’s important to know more than just your district’s data, and to find a systematic manner on how kids of a particular social class are being short-changed,” Spring says.

He and three other New York superintendents partnered with the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce to lobby the state and received additional funding as a result. This allowed Spring to take $1 million off the tax levy and still add student services.

“The money might come from the state if you wait, but it won’t come in its entirety and it won’t get distributed equitably,” he adds. “Our complaint put the federal agency in the position to police and fix systems that are unintentionally discriminatory.”