Researchers have found that regional differences contribute to whether a person will achieve prosperity later in life. A child born into a family in the bottom quintile of the income distribution in Utah has a 14% chance of reaching the top 20%; in Tennessee, the number is only 7%. A new paper by Barbara Biasi, an assistant professor of economics at Yale SOM, shows that closing the gap in education spending between rich and poor school districts could make a substantial difference in economic mobility for poor children. Biasi’s study examined 13 school finance reform policies that were passed in 20 U.S. states between 1986 and 2004. She assessed how much each reform effort equalized per-student spending between high- and low-income districts. She then followed the students affected by each reform effort. She found that in those states where reform efforts led to greater equalization, the degree of intergenerational income mobility of students in the lowest quintile increased.
Across all 50 states, there are different ways in which states allocate K-12 funding to districts. Education Commission of the States has collected information on general funding model structure, base per pupil, special education, English language learner, at-risk, gifted and talented, and small school funding. In addition to identifying which states include mechanisms for base funding and special populations funding, this resource also provides information on how those mechanisms work. For example, how are states identifying at-risk students and making allocations to support them?
Twenty-five percent of respondents to a recent national poll identified “a lack of financial support” as one of the biggest problems facing public schools in their communities. The findings follow waves of teacher activism to push for more state funding, salary increases, and other policy changes. While many of those demonstrations saw broad support, the public hasn’t always put its money where its mouth is. In Los Angeles, for example, voters struck down a ballot measure that would have helped pay for changes teachers won through strikes in the nation’s second-largest school district. Where should that additional financial support come from? Seven in 10 adults and six in 10 teachers responding to the poll said they would rather see cuts in other government-funded services than tax increases.
EdBuild, a nonprofit focused on equity in school funding, defines an isolating border as one that divides one school district from another that is at least 25 percent whiter and receives at least 10 percent more funding per student. Across the United States, in 42 states, there are 969 of these isolating borders, according to EdBuild’s recently released report. The average disparity in funding along these borders was roughly $4,000 per student. As a report from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy shows, roughly 36 percent of K–12 funding comes from these [local property] taxes. That means inequality is often baked into district lines; wealthier communities will have more money to spend on their students.
In 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available, only 12 states allocated more funds to districts in which student poverty is high than to districts in which there is little or no poverty. And of these 12 states, only five — Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Wyoming — also funded education at a level of adequacy that enables students to receive the resources they need. This article outlines steps that federal and state governments can take to make a difference in achieving greater equity and adequacy in school funding, including redesigning school finance formulas to focus on pupil needs, for example, through weighted student formulas that add additional funds for pupil characteristics such as poverty.
“We knew it going in, but we didn’t really understand how very local this work has to be,” said CEO of EdBuild Rebecca Sibilia. Every state needs a unique fix. Solutions have to be tailored to specific state funding policies. Each state has its own unique funding formula that dictates how it takes local and state tax revenue and divvies that money up among schools. What matters most when it comes to how much money districts have to work with is place. Districts are still heavily dependent on local property tax, and disparities exist mostly because many states have not managed to close the gap between property-rich and property-poor districts. Sibilia has pushed in recent years for states to rethink the way that districts’ lines, which she calls “gerrymandered,” are drawn.
Parton: School-level spending data is coming under ESSA. Here are 5 things states must focus on when creating their new report cards
School-level spending data, from the 2017-18 school year, is required on states’ next report cards. Certainly members of Congress saw the value when they included the requirement, but states, along with a broad range of education stakeholders, still need to tell the public why this information is important. State leaders need to set the vision about the value of this information and the story it tells about school quality and student success. As the Data Quality Campaign’s research shows, “put information on a report card” isn’t always the same thing as transparency. It will take effort by state leaders to make sure the data are findable and easy to understand, and they should make it possible to view school spending data side by side with student outcomes. Guided by the vision they developed, states will need to help people understand the “so what” of the data. That includes providing some context, for instance, questions to consider, or a little information on how to interpret the data.
The most recent analysis from the Education Week Research Center shows that the nation as a whole and many individual states are doing a far better job on the equity side of the equation than they are on the sheer spending side of things. The analysis, based on four measures of overall spending and four equity metrics, gives the nation a grade of C this year in school finance, with a score of 74.9 out of 100 possible points. That’s up 0.5 points since last year. Still, nearly half the states (24) finish with grades between C-minus and D-minus. And the scores are significantly higher on funding equity for the nation as a whole (B-plus or 86.8) than they are for spending alone (D or 63.0). Vermont (C+) and Alaska (C) are the only states to receive grades below B-minus for equity, but 25 states get F grades for spending.
School district leaders in 2016 were seemingly apocalyptic once they realized that a tiny provision buried in the Every Student Succeeds Act would by summer 2020 require them to report to the public how they divvy up funds among their schools. But in at least 13 states where education departments have in the past two months started reporting school-by-school spending amounts a year ahead of schedule…most of those administrators’ fears have yet to come to fruition. So far, with exceptions such as New York state and North Carolina, there’s been little media coverage of spending disparities between schools, and few school boards appear to be using the numbers to craft their budgets for the coming school year. “I hope that the numbers will be used to drive conversations about inequities and the way we resource and fund our schools,” said Ary Amerikaner of the Education Trust. “For that to happen, the data needs to be reported in a way that’s understandable, usable, and widely distributed.”
Also see this related article, The coming storm for financial transparency.
Weighted student funding (WSF) is a funding method that aims to allocate funding based on individual student needs. While large districts are increasingly using WSF systems, little research exists to assess their effectiveness. In this guest blog, Dr. Marguerite Roza, Georgetown University, discusses her team’s ongoing…research study that seeks to document and understand WSF designs and features as implemented in the field, and to gauge the extent to which WSF designs are associated with reducing achievement gaps.