The time has come for bold action by the states—and the federal government—to redesign and reform the funding of our nation’s public schools. Achieving equity and excellence requires sufficient resources that are distributed based on student need, not zip code, and that are efficiently used.
Regardless of where they live, whether they are in the middle class or aspiring to join it, these families have a right to expect that these schools will provide their children an opportunity to share in the American dream. But all too often, reality is more complicated, as students, families and communities are burdened by the broken system of education funding in America. With few exceptions, states continue to finance public education through methods that have no demonstrable link to the cost of delivering rigorous academic standards and that can produce high achievement in all students, including but not limited to low-income students, English-language learners, students with disabilities, students in high poverty and students who live in remote schools and districts. Few states have rationally determined the cost of enabling all students to achieve established content and performance standards, including the cost of achieving those standards across diverse student populations and geographic locations. Most states do not properly ensure the efficient use of resources to attain high achievement for all students. A meaningful educational opportunity requires that states make sure all students receive the resources to achieve rigorous academic standards and obtain the skills to compete in the economy and participate capably as citizens in a democratic society.
Accordingly, this commission believes the time has come for bold action by the states—and the federal government—to redesign and reform the funding of our nation’s public schools. The deep inequities in school funding documented by another federal commission more than 40 years ago (see “Property Taxes and School Finance” box below) remain entrenched across our nation’s states and school districts at a time when more than 40 percent of all American public school children are enrolled in districts of concentrated student poverty.
There is disagreement about exactly how to change the system, but there is complete agreement that achieving equity and excellence requires sufficient resources that are distributed based on student need and that are efficiently used. The historical record makes clear that simply following the plans and practices of the past will not lead us to the outcomes we clearly need as a nation.
Moreover, the situation has become even more worrisome in recent years. As the nation has worked to escape the distress of the recession of 2008, state fiscal difficulties have been slow to be resolved—leading to pressures to cut the funding for schools. Thus, districts in many states are faced with an imperative to improve their results as their budgets are reduced.
The problems become even more serious in some districts, where overall economic hardships, unemployment, homelessness, lack of food security and inadequate access to health care have deepened for many low-income families and where schools are losing resources. We must make sure that our most vulnerable populations do not bear the brunt of the fiscal problems of the states and recognize that across-the-board cuts and austerity budgets tend to hurt schools serving poor students the most, as they rely heavily on state funds for their survival.
Report of The Equity and Excellence Commission, a federal advisory committee chartered by Congress, operating under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA); 5 U.S.C., App.2., February 2, 2013
This report is available the U.S. Department of Education Commission website at http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/eec/index.html