America’s public school system today costs taxpayers over two-and-a-half times more that it did half a century ago—far outstripping changes in enrollment over that time. When federal, state, and local spending is taken together, it stands as one of government’s most-expensive endeavors… It’s clear, however, that K-12 advocates, politicians, the courts, and others over the years have raised expectations of what schools should provide and to whom, and that it takes money to meet those demands. Here are some significant milestones.
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.
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.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued final guidance Thursday on how districts can comply with a rule that federal funds are used to supplement and not replace state and local dollars for education. The guidance says districts must show the methods they use to allocate state and local funds are “Title I neutral.” In other words, schools should receive all of the state and local funds they would receive if they were not Title I schools — but districts are not required to spell out which costs or services paid for with Title I dollars are supplemental. The new rule is intended to “reduce administrative burden, simplify compliance and promote effective spending,” according to the Department of Education press release.
Analysis: Historic 14-day teacher strike in New Haven, California, ends with deal in which educators lost money
Teachers in California’s New Haven Unified School District voted 302 to 200 Sunday to ratify a two-year contract, ending a 14-day strike. The union’s bargaining chair “acknowledged that teachers overall lost 7.5 percent of their salaries while striking, so those retiring this year will lose money for their efforts.” Not just retirees. A $75,000-a-year teacher lost $5,625 during the strike, leaving her $341 in the hole even at the end of the second year. And that’s assuming the district was offering nothing. In fact, the district’s last offer before the strike was a 3 percent bonus and a 1 percent increase. That’s at least $3,000 in additional money without a strike, depending on whether the increase was for the first year or second.
Despite years of states pumping more money into schools, at least 22 states plus Washington D.C., up through 2017, still had not reached pre-recession funding levels, according to the CBPP. In Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, funding remains more than 10 percent below pre-recession levels, according to the study. The threat of another recession has school finance analysts warning districts to judiciously spend any extra money they get this year. Set aside money in an emergency fund, they advise, and think twice before giving teachers permanent raises that might be unsustainable.
Officials from Chicago Public Schools and most city charter school networks have agreed on a new formula setting the amount of taxpayer dollars that go from the district to each privately managed, publicly funded campus. The new formula returns the charters to the student-based budgeting model that district schools use, including a 2.5 percent increase that amounts to a funding boost of $19 million, according to CPS. CPS said the formula needed tweaking in the wake of the state’s new school funding formula, passed in 2017; the new formula is credited with greatly improving the perennially cash-strapped district’s financial footing. It also resulted in a windfall for charters, requiring districts to provide between 97 and 103 percent of per-capita tuition to charters, up from the 75 to 125 percent range previously required.
Roza & Drew: L.A. District is asking for a $500 million parcel tax. In return, let the schools decide how to spend their new funds
For LAUSD, a decentralized model would be a smart move as it asks local voters to approve a $500 million annual parcel tax on June 4. Trust in the district’s financial leadership is low, schools feel squeezed with reports that performance is lagging, and the district is bleeding cash to cover commitments made in years past. Some groups are rightly asking for financial reform in return for approving the parcel tax. Health care benefits alone consume a whopping $2,300 per pupil per year (much of it for retirees) — more than in within-state urban peer districts. And yet LAUSD leadership has been unable to muster the support needed to rein in these expenses. That’s where a decentralized model can help. When finances are shifted to schools, schools get to make trade-offs with their money, choosing where and how to trim to save valued staff. Where those choices bump up against labor contract provisions, schools can and should make their case for more flexibility. In the long run, doing so could influence negotiations between the district and union.
Five years ago, Seattle residents voted for a ballot measure to raise property taxes, generating $58 million to fund an overhaul of existing preschools, some of which are run by nonprofits or out of homes, and create new ones. By the 2017-2018 school year, students in Seattle Preschool Program schools had made significant gains on vocabulary, literacy and math tests compared with a nationally representative sample of children who took the same tests. In November, 68.5 percent of Seattle voters agreed to continue the tax increase to pay for even more preschool seats. Public preschool isn’t just a West Coast trend. Cities throughout the country are offering first-rate, affordable preschool to low- and middle-income families squeezed by rising housing costs. Cincinnati voters said yes to higher property taxes. “We can’t wait around for support at the state and federal level,” said Shiloh Turner, executive director of Cincinnati Preschool Promise. “That’s precisely why so many local efforts to fund preschool have popped up. You can make it happen at the local level because we know the community’s needs best.”