Monday, January 9, 2012

Successful School Reform Must Include Equity of Opportunity in Funding

Today, substantial funding differences exist among school of the same district, among districts of the same state, and among states - and the differences are linked to 1) racial, ethnic and economic status, and 2) inequities in educational resources and in student achievement. "Separate but equal" schooling was declared unconstitutional in 1954; in the 1990s our funding formulas create schools that are not only separate but decidedly unequal.
Equitable school financing must recognize that differing needs and circumstances require different interventions and incur different costs. Funding should consider what dollars actually buy in different settings, the extent to which programs and services are provided to all groups, and the degree to which all students benefit from public education services.
Local, state and federal governments share responsibility for equity in school finance. Current systems deny equal educational opportunity to children in property-poor districts where poor, racial minority and limited English proficient children are overrepresented. State and federal "categorical" funding meant to supplement presumably equal "regular" programs fails miserably to make up for inter- and intra-district funding inequities.
Federal and state governments must accomplish significant school finance reform and empower needy schools to give their students an opportunity to learn.

It's been seventeen years since this publication and we're no closer at achieving equity for all K-12 students! In Michigan, this falls solely on our state elected officials since the state assumed responsibility for funding K-12 public schools when Proposal A passed in the mid-1990's. Not only has the state failed to bring per-pupil support in line between all 551 school districts, it has not even begun to address the more considerable problem of providing equity of opportunity for children in low socio-economic communities, with limited English language, and other barriers to learning. Thus, two school districts can be side-by-side or within a few miles of each other. In one, children enjoy modern classrooms, state-of-the art music, PE, and athletic facilities, up-to-date technology, smaller class sizes, and more high-level course offerings. In the other, they attend a 1920's crowded building with overflowing classes and limited course offerings. There, funds are insufficient to effectively bridge the language barriers let alone make up for lack of basic skills due to transiency, previous attendance at horrible schools, and limited support at home. Yet, they are expected to achieve at the same level as their more affluent neighbors and ridiculed when they don't, often sprinkled with inaccurate assumptions and even blatant racism. As a result, their teachers and administrators are blamed for it because that's the easy way out for political leaders who don't want to deal with the real problems.

The American education system will never effectively compete with high-achieving nations until this issue is finally confronted and resolved.