While most people understand K-12 education spending in terms of average district per-pupil amounts, how districts distribute federal, state and local dollars between schools has long been a mystery even to district superintendents. But many have theorized that seeing distribution levels by school can reveal to the public how (or whether) money boosts academic results and whether money is being spent as intended.
“The $300 million increase … is split evenly between two of those four formulas, with targeted and finance incentive grants each getting $150 million more in fiscal 2018 than fiscal 2017…Targeted grants provide more money per child as a district’s poverty rate increases, while finance incentive grants are designed to address funding environments in “good finance”—those that spend relatively large amounts on schools and do so equitably—and “bad finance” states.”
Tucked into a report filed with the $1.3 trillion government funding bill passed last week is a reminder to states — through the federal Education Department — that their ESSA accountability plans must include assurances that they’ll require districts to use school improvement dollars for organizations or individuals “that have practical expertise in the development or use of evidence-based strategies and programs to improve teaching, learning, and schools.”
Indianapolis, Puerto Rico, and three other school districts have applied to join the Every Student Succeeds Act’s weighted student-funding pilot during the 2018-19 school year. Participating districts can combine federal, state, and local dollars into a single funding stream tied to individual students. English-language learners, children in poverty, and students in special education—who cost more to educate—would carry with them more money than other students.
An early-childhood education advocacy group has released a new report on how states are using the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, to leverage federal support for early learning. The report is the latest component of what the First Five Years Fund calls an ESSA resource toolkit. Entitled, “Early Learning In State ESSA Plans – Implementation Snapshot: How States Are Using the Law,” it breaks down how each state plans to either launch new early-childhood initiatives or increase their current offerings.
Medicaid spends only $4 billion of its $400 billion annual budget in schools — a “very small portion of the pie,” said Jessica Schubel, a senior policy analyst at the bipartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But for the school districts providing an array of services that have quietly become vital to students and families, losing this funding source would be immense, she said, “a big deal.”
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019 recommends a smaller overall cut to the U.S. Department of Education than his first budget proposal from last year. But he is still seeking to eliminate a few big-ticket K-12 programs and streamline others, while also outlining a plan to increase money available for public and private school choice.
The state has been grappling with ways to cut costs in some districts where student population has plummeted. Separately, charter school advocates and public school officials have bickered over whether they’re getting their fair share of state funds. “We are public officials, and this adds another level of transparency for the public to see what we do on a daily basis,” he said.
ESSA requires districts to break out school-level spending by December 2019—a first-time federal requirement. It’s a level of detail unknown even to most district superintendents. Various interest groups are split over whether such items as transportation, technology, special education, and pre-K—some of the biggest drivers of the rise in school spending—should be categorized as regular school costs, or as extraordinary costs or overhead. Illinois ultimately decided to leave some decisionmaking authority with district officials over how to split those costs. “There are ramifications for each decision point,” Wolfe said. “We had to ask how does it help make data-driven decisions within districts?” said Robert Wolfe, Illinois’ chief financial officer.
The next educational equity battleground: Little-noticed ESSA provision to allow parents to see whether districts fund schools fairly
When Congress updated federal education law in 2015, it included a little-noticed, bipartisan provision that requires states to report per-pupil spending at the school level. The Every Student Succeeds Act provision goes into effect in the 2018–19 school year. That change, advocates and researchers predict, is likely to expose disparities in the way some districts divide resources among their schools… “The first step is just opening up the conversation and empowering our best advocates, which are usually parents,” she said. The new data will give them useful information so they “know what the status quo is [and] ask hard questions.”