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Monday, January 08, 2007

School Funding Lawsuit and Advocacy

Problems in how schools are funded are being addressed by a lawsuit in Washington and by advocacy work at the national level.

In Washington, an affiliation of nine school districts, the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), has filed a lawsuit against the state asking a judge to increase funding. The suit claims the state has violated the state constitution by providing insufficient funding for basic education. At issue is the definition of "basic education," and whether student achievement data can be used to prove that state funding is inadequate. Read the Seattle Times article, Lawsuit aims to force state to boost money for education, for more details.

At the national level, the National Education Association (NEA) has named maximing education funding as one of its top priorities for the 110th Congress. The information that follows comes from the NEA website:

Funding increases for core programs like Title I, IDEA, and Pell Grants are necessary to help states, local school districts and postsecondary institutions meet the demands of increasing enrollments and higher levels of accountability. A significant investment in education is needed for a range of important programs, including many smaller programs that provide key support to critical components of our nation's education system.

Debates on the merits of certain federal education reform efforts aside, increased federal requirements cost money. In addition, resources are needed to expand and strengthen proven programs to help close achievement gaps, such as smaller classes, early childhood education, after-school programs, and improved professional development programs for teachers and other educators.

In the 2005-06 school year, almost 11,000 public schools had already failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for two or more years under NCLB provisions, and thus faced federal sanctions. These schools will face even greater challenges in the coming year as testing and teacher quality requirements go into full effect. In fact the 2007-08 school year is the first year of mandated science testing.

The federal government is moving backwards, away from its commitment to provide 40 percent of the costs of providing special education services to students. Because of inadequate federal support, schools are often unable to provide the full spectrum of services mandated under IDEA. In addition, administrators must sometimes cut other critical programs to fund mandated IDEA services.

...Congress should also reauthorize and fund the Forest County and Schools program, which ensures a predictable payment to federally impacted forest counties, removing dependency on timber revenues to fund education.

The FY06 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, coupled with a 1 percent across-the-board cut enacted as part of the FY06 defense appropriations bill, resulted in significant cuts to critical education programs. Overall education funding fell below the previous year for the first time in a decade. Funding for No Child Left Behind programs was cut by $1 billion, dropping funding below the level enacted three years prior. The federal share of special education funding was also cut for the first time in a decade, from 18.6 to 17.8 percent.

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