A report released by Education Trust last year revealed that, after adjusting for the additional costs of educating low-income students, the highest poverty districts in Rhode Island receive $2,282 or 14% less per student in state and local funding than those with the least poverty. What is causing this gap for Providence? City leadership has flat-funded K-12 education for almost a decade, despite unavoidable cost increases (including building maintenance, busing, and cost-of-living adjustments). District leadership has had no choice but to cut critical supports and services to provide a balanced budget to the city. State leadership has increased education funding to Providence each year, but not by enough to meet the needs of our growing low-income and English Learner student populations… Basic supports for strong learning environments, such as teacher assistants and training for school staff, should be increasing, but, instead, are at constant risk of being cut.
When Hoover High School…began building the next year’s master schedule, school leaders discovered something concerning. Some of the students who needed extra support—English learners, special-education students, and others in need of academic interventions—were more likely to be scheduled in larger classes with less experienced teachers. To systematically address these inequities, decision-makers must understand the processes that create them. Increased funding alone will not address endemic achievement gaps, because equity is more than just a fiscal or pedagogical challenge; it is also an operational one. A school’s schedule…dictates fundamental elements of the student experience: the teachers and peers they interact with throughout the day, the size and composition of their classes, their access to additional supports and services, and whether or not they take courses and electives aligned with their interests, graduation or college entry requirements.
At the beginning of this year, the National Conference of State Legislatures predicted there was a chance that more than half of states could finally overhaul the antiquated—and, advocates say, often inequitable—formulas that have been dictating their K-12 funding for years. But balancing state and local resources, deciding which districts should get what, and figuring out how to distribute money in a way that will spur academic achievement is tricky. While there’s a strong chance that states such as Maryland and Texas are likely to see major changes to state spending patterns as a result of decisions made this legislative season, others, such as Idaho and Nevada, have had a hard time getting funding formula replacement efforts off the ground. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most animated political battles this legislative season to replace, update, and legally grapple with school funding formulas.
Illinois’ new evidence-based school funding model is effectively driving added funding to the state’s neediest school districts, but the state must double its annual added investment in the formula if districts are to reach funding adequacy in a timely manner, according to a report released Wednesday by the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. For the state to make up a $7.35 billion education funding shortfall and meet adequacy levels within 10 years as specified in the legislation, CTBA President Ralph Martire said, the actual annual funding increase would have to be closer to $779 million.
Miller: Texas’s bold plan linking funding to academic outcomes should yield big gains for students, especially those at risk
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance recently recommended investing $800 million more annually in college readiness and third-grade reading proficiency. Both my personal experience and the academic evidence strongly suggest that outcomes-based funding can result in significant student gains. The key is whether the system is properly designed. Texas’s proposal is just that. Districts will receive at least $1,450 for each student proficient in third-grade reading. If the student comes from a low-income family, the district will receive $3,400. That’s a 24 percent increase to base funding for literacy instruction that will become a permanent component of the overall system. But perhaps the most beneficial element of this proposal is the size of the weights for at-risk students, which are used for allocating additional funding above base funding levels to categories of students who are shown to cost more to educate to state standards. For both third-grade proficiency and postsecondary success, the Texas proposal includes more than 200 percent additional funding for successful at-risk students — almost 10 times the 22 percent typically spent by states on these students.
Senators are making a last-ditch run to pass an end-of-session bill addressing Idaho’s K-12 funding formula. The bulk of the bill would define student groups — at-risk students, economically disadvantaged students, special education students, English language learners and gifted and talented students. Under a new formula, which bases funding on enrollment numbers, these student groups would be “weighted.” In other words, schools would receive additional funding to teach students who fall into these groups. If the state rewrites its funding formula — in 2020, or some future year — payments to school districts and charter schools would hinge on these definitions.
In order to meet ESSA’s requirement that they calculate and report how much gets spent in each school, state and local officials have had to separate out overhead and classroom costs, an arduous, months-long process. Several states had to purchase new school finance software or rejigger existing school finance software in order to figure out new categories of spending. According to an analysis by Edunomics, a school finance think tank at Georgetown University, at least 14 states now have published school-by-school spending amounts. Using this data, state lawmakers in New York and Georgia already have used the school spending amounts as a tool to scrutinize how districts spend a growing pot of state funds. That process has been politically contentious.
When the Hawaii Department of Education turned to a new “weighted student formula” to fund schools, a pressing concern was how that model might negatively impact geographically isolated schools with low student enrollment. Hana High and Elementary, a K-12 school on Maui’s east side, has seen its budget reduced by a third from nearly $3 million in the 2008-09 school year to $2 million in the 2016-17 school year… “It works for 98 percent of schools,” Hana’s recently retired principal, Richard Paul, said of the weighted student formula. “But it doesn’t work for us.” In the seven years since the formula took effect in Hawaii in 2006-7 to 2012-13, the total amount of dollars allocated to public schools increased by 11.3 percent, from $655.4 million to $729.7 million, according to a June 2013 assessment of the weighted student formula done by the American Institutes for Research. But some argue the system hammers the smallest schools, which sometimes don’t receive enough money through total pupil head count to afford to have someone teach just one subject or even supply textbooks.
America’s $23 billion school funding gap: Despite court rulings on equity, new report finds startling racial imbalance
Despite pivotal finance rulings, school funding in New Jersey, California, and New York remains among the most inequitable in the nation according to the new report by EdBuild, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on education spending. Nationally, EdBuild researchers found that school districts that mostly serve nonwhite students get $23 billion less in state and local spending each year than those with predominantly white student populations — even though they educate roughly the same number of children. Racial disparities in funding persisted even when poverty was considered. Nationally, poor white districts received nearly $1,500 more per student than districts serving poor nonwhite kids. Poor nonwhite districts got less money than low-income white districts in 17 states and they got more in 12 states.
Though the guidance does not require a spending test, it does require all districts to provide an allocation methodology. This is a spending rationale articulating how the district divvies up its funds across schools – something that’s missing in most districts. District leaders and school board members often don’t recognize the enormity of their role in deciding how to spend the country’s $650 billion public education budget. Many may not have ever articulated an approach to apportioning their public funds, or even thought through the range of options. Hopefully this requirement will prompt them to explore whether their budgets reflect an intentional strategy, habit, or something else.