Thursday, May 15, 2008

School Funding Shackles Lower Income Students

By perpetuating school finance systems that treat children from different districts so differently—by shackling students to the economic circumstances into which they were born—states are undermining the egalitarian goals of public education and new performance imperatives of NCLB. At the very least, combined state and local funding per student should be equal among districts within each state.

The Education Sector and the University of Washington's Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) have released School Funding's Tragic Flaw, examining local, state, and federal education funding policies. The bottom line? Policies systematically give money to schools and students that have more resources, and give less to those that have less.

First the Federal Government...
The Title I program, which provides money to school districts with high concentrations of poor students, contributes to the funding disparity problem. Title I allocations are dependent upon how much states and districts spend. States and districts with more money spend more money, so they get more federal dollars. States and districts that are poorer and, therefore, have less money to spend, get fewer federal dollars, penalizing poorer states.

Then the States...
Many states have adopted policies—some prompted by lawsuits—to equalize funding between richer and poorer school districts. However, laws allowing local districts to augment state funding with local property tax levies often mean those districts with higher property wealth wind up with more money. Also, when state funds are distributed according to staffing reimbursement formulas, wealthier districts that spend more typically benefit.

And finally, the Locals...
Districts make decisions that determine how funding is distributed among individual schools, especially around budgeting for teachers. When teachers are allowed to choose where they work, they tend to go to lower-poverty schools where working conditions may be better. High-poverty schools typically have less experienced teachers and higher turnover rates, so the average teacher salary is usually much lower in those schools, resulting in significant per-student funding disparities between schools within districts.

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