Friday, June 29, 2012

We know what needs to be done, so why isn't it getting done?

The Pew Center is calling out state policymakers for their handling (or lack thereof) of the recession's impact on local school districts:

The recent recession scrambled the traditional balance in education funding, according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Declining state revenues increased the distance between the haves and the have-nots, (Michael) Griffith says, because wealthier districts in many parts of the country were better able to make up for fewer state dollars.

This gap and what states have done to combat it are the subject of another report released earlier this week by the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and the Education Law Center, which advocates for increased funding for poor and disabled children.

The report grades states on the basis of their level of state and local education funding in the 2008-09 school year and how funding is distributed, adjusted for poverty rates and regional wage differences, among other factors.

The report concludes that Utah, New Jersey and Ohio do the “fairest” job of funding education, as evidenced by the fact that they gave significantly more funding to schools with higher poverty rates. The report finds that high poverty school districts received less per-pupil funding than wealthier districts in 16 states, with high-poverty districts receiving less than 80 percent of the funding given to wealthier districts in Nevada, Illinois, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Here's an example of what Griffith, senior school finance analyst at the Economic Commission on the States, is talking about. The following charts compare Bloomfield Hills School District, arguably the wealthiest in Michigan, with Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, one of a handful of the poorest school districts with high poverty and low English language proficiency. One compares high school reading test scores while the other compares revenue. You draw your own conclusions. (Click on each chart to zoom in)




The second chart provides recent trends in local and state revenue, along with total revenue (including federal funds). It is measured in per-pupil dollars to account for different student enrollment numbers between the two districts. Despite the fact that Godfrey-Lee student poverty, transiency, and limited English proficiency rates are at the opposite ends of the spectrum from affluent Bloomfield Hills, often described as Michigan's version of "home of the stars," the latter district continues to receive nearly $5,000 per pupil more in revenue.

Some might interpret the Godfrey-Lee total revenue line as improving and closing the funding gap with Bloomfield Hills. In actuality, it represents the receipt of federal school improvement funds in the first of a three-year grant designed to target specific improvement efforts on our high school. These funds, which end after the coming school year, are not sufficient to address the learning gaps across all grade levels. In fact, none of the federal funds received can be used to provide every student with basic access to the core curriculum, according to federal rules. This limits their use to targeted supports beyond the basic educational program and as such, are insufficient to even begin to address severe learning gaps caused by poverty, English language deficiencies, and high transiency rates. (How much does Federal Title I Funding Affect Fairness in State School Finance Systems?)

So if we know what we need to do to begin closing these achievement gaps, why hasn't Michigan's governor and legislature begun to do anything about it? Perhaps its because the leadership in our state House and Senate all represent the more affluent school districts. Their solution for the poor, urban districts is to test kids more and increase the number of for-profit schools where even the best of these are only producing marginally better results. These are faux solutions that by the time anyone realizes it, most of the cowards in our legislature will have been term-limited and gone on to other pursuits. The kids they have ignored will be left holding the bag.

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