Is School Funding Fair (throughout the nation)?

Well, that would be no but here's the latest National Report Card on school funding by the Education Law Center at Rutgers.  The authors are Bruce Baker, professor in the Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Administration in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University , David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center (ELC) and Danielle Farrie, Research Director at ELC.

From the Introduction:

The third edition of the National Report Card examines the condition of states’ finance systems as the country emerges from the Great Recession, but is still wrestling with its consequences.

As in prior editions, this Third Edition of the National Report Card continues to make the case for states to take immediate and longer-term action to improve the fairness of their school finance systems.

Two predominant characteristics of the U.S. education system highlight the importance of systems of school funding that are built on the principles of fairness: decentralization and concentrated poverty.
The U.S. system of schooling is highly decentralized and funding is distributed through a non- uniform system for states, districts and schools. The 50 states and the District of Columbia each operate separate education systems often characterized by a complex system of fractured and segregated districts.

Second, there is a large and growing population of poor students who are concentrated in high- poverty school districts. In 2011, 21% of school-aged children in the U.S. were living below the federal poverty level (approximately $23,000 for a family of four), a 30% increase over levels in 2007. That translates to almost two and a half million more children living in poverty over this four-year period. In fact, every state in the country experienced increasing child poverty.4

Compounding the challenges of extremely high levels of poverty, these students are increasingly concentrated in schools with other poor children. The percentage of U.S. students in high-poverty schools (poverty rates greater than 30%) doubled from 7% in 2007 to 16% in 2011. Decades of research demonstrates that concentrated poverty is a significant barrier to educational progress. The increasing isolation of poor students in schools and districts presents what may be the most daunting challenge currently facing American public education.

I will note that this is also true for charters schools which are becoming increasingly segregated by race and socioeconomics.

How to think about this issue?

Before one can effectively analyze how well states fund public education, one critical question must be answered: What is fair school funding? In this report, “fair” school funding is defined as a state finance system that ensures equal educational opportunity by providing a sufficient level of funding distributed to districts within the state to account for additional needs generated by student poverty. 

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) publishes the most commonly used metric for state school funding: state and local revenue per pupil. This is a fairly straightforward measure, but one that ignores the complexity of comparing funding levels between states. Without any adjustments for the characteristics of the students served or for differences in regional purchasing power, this measure is unsatisfactory for making comparisons between states.

It is important to note that not all of these fairness measures are entirely within the control of state policymakers. For example, the level of funding is a function of both the state’s effort and wealth. When evaluating a state’s funding level, it is important to consider whether the funding level is a function of effort, wealth (that is, fiscal capacity), or a combination of the two. In addition, the extent to which children attend public schools is not entirely a function of the quality of the public system. Some states historically have a “culture” of private schooling and a larger supply of private schools.  

What about Washington State? 

  • Flat on funding with an F from 2007-2011 for “Fairness Measure: State Effort”
  • C on “Funding Distribution."  
  • 27th in "Funding Level" sitting right between Louisiana and South Carolina. 
Page 33 has a chart with all the four areas for all states.  

The unfair condition of school funding in far too many states demonstrates again the importance of sustained advocacy to convince elected officials and policymakers to undertake meaningful and enduring school finance reform. And, in the face of a recession, advocates in even those states with a demonstrated track record on fair school funding must redouble their efforts to prevent backsliding and retreat from fairness and equity.

The consequences of a failure to design, implement, and sustain fair systems of school funding
 are felt directly in the everyday classroom experiences of students across the country. States that prioritize and invest in their public education systems have the ability to attract high-quality teachers, realize the importance of early childhood education, and are better able to provide small class sizes and the staffing resources to meet the needs of all children. These fair funding states have also demonstrated stronger academic performance when compared to states with flat or regressive funding. Simply put, states with unfair school funding have fewer resources in classrooms and schools to support teachers and students and lag in educational performance. These states and regions are an educational drag on the entire nation.

We can't let the Legislature ignore what the Washington Supreme Court has ruled about school funding for our state.


Karen said…
This is so sad. The worst part is, with limited funding, administrators start new, expensive testing programs and other initiatives instead of funding some of the basics.
And Karen, you have it in a nutshell. Tons of new initiatives but what about basic funding.
Anonymous said…
Washington state struggles with the pack in most funding coverage with the exception of state support which puts us near the bottom. But we knew that.

However, Washington state seems to get away with paying teachers close to worst in the nation. If I were a good K-12 teacher, why would I want to work in Washington state?

If it is important to pay CEO's top dollar to get top performance, why doesn't this apply to teachers?

-Educated in New York state
Anonymous said…
Educated, can you tell me more about that statistic? Every where I see it looks like we are number 22 for teacher pay- better than all our other funding rankings(so it is already being prioritized over, say, class size, where we are 42nd, if the salary number is right), though I would hope for such a wealthy state we'd be better on everything. Is there fuzz in that number? I know our high end is quite high, but is our starting salary extra low, or does it take longer to climb the ladder than in other states? Do our teachers work more hours than average?

Data Nerd
Karen said…
Data nerd - you need to read the study to understand Educated's comments. Pages 37-39 to be exact.

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