“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.
A common myth is that principals are like CEOs of their schools, with authority to make key decisions and strategically deploy resources. The reality, though, is quite different. Principals typically are treated like middle managers, with little control over the $694 billion in annual U.S. public education spending. At the state level, school finance formulas determine how dollars are allocated to districts, virtually all of which contain allotments that are restricted for specific purposes. But perhaps the biggest impediment to giving school principals more autonomy are school districts, where most spending decisions are made by central offices. Instead of giving principals actual dollars to spend, most districts allocate staffing positions and other resources based on one-size-fits-all models. For example, a district might dole out one teacher for every 25 students, an assistant principal for every 250 students, and a social worker for every 500 students.
Where, exactly, do those billions of dollars taxpayers annually spend for schools go? In most states, policymakers really don’t know. That’s because state education departments don’t have the technology to track the tens of thousands of transactions that district officials, using a combination of federal, state, and local dollars, make throughout the school year. So instead, the departments give lawmakers a receipt that includes a summation of broad spending categories, a breakout of average salaries, and maybe a mention of whether spending is up or down. But overhauling education departments’ data-collecting tools…can cost millions of dollars and fan flare-ups between policymakers over student privacy and local control. It’s a price tag and an ideology battle few policymakers want to take on.
Regardless of what happens…at the ballot box, school systems know they can’t wait; they must use their limited resources as strategically — and as equitably — as possible to accelerate student learning. “How much” schools receive is important; “how well” resources are used is also key. Education Resource Strategies (ERS), a national nonprofit with a California office and focus, recently profiled eight school systems from across the country that used their resources strategically and are seeing tangible results for black, Latinx and low-income students. Among those, two California districts provide examples of how school systems can manage people, time and money effectively.
The government’s overall appropriation of funds for special education preschool programs has varied by year, but generally decreased between 2002 and 2015, from $390 million to $353 million, before getting a slight bump to about $368 million in 2016 and 2017. At the same time, the number of children served by the programs more than doubled from the early 1990s to 2017, when 753,000 children ages 3 to 5 were served. The growth in enrollment without adequate federal funding (for special education) means per pupil spending has decreased sharply, by 40 percent per child from 1994 to 2014. Without funds, states may struggle to offer a robust special education preschool program and services, which means kids who could greatly benefit from having a head start in school are missing out and losing valuable time to catch up with their peers.
While Afton recognizes that total federal preschool funding has increased substantially since 2008, this article points out the growth in special education Pre-K enrollment without adequate federal funding for Pre-K students with disabilities.
Raise the topic of education finance and most will jump to the revenue side of the equation. But the spending side is equally important and gets shorter shrift. Parents and educators have not been asking, Is the district giving my school a fair share of its money? And local leaders have not asked what is purchased with that money and whether those purchases make the best use of the money. Part of the reason so much less time is spent on the spending side of the equation is a lack of visibility into how the money is spent. But that is about to change, thanks to a new provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act. In this Q&A, Dr. Marguerite Rosa shines a light on the pressing need to better support district and school leaders in their work on the spending side of the equation.
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.
Several Massachusetts superintendents are spending more money on schools that enroll mostly wealthy students than they are on schools that educate mostly poor students, even though the state designed its funding formula to do the exact opposite. And some schools are outperforming other schools even though they’re receiving significantly less money. That’s according to a new report by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. Three bills under consideration in the state legislature could provide significantly more money to districts. But the distribution methods and amounts vary widely. MBAE found that under the current system, districts such as Brockton, Chelmsford and New Bedford, distribute their money between schools in an inconsistent way that often is not targeted toward the state’s neediest students. That dynamic isn’t always the case, the group found. Many districts in the state distribute more money to schools with more poor students and many others distribute their money evenly between schools.
Inside America’s child care crisis: Even after a ‘historic’ federal investment, today’s system only serves 1 in 6 eligible kids. Could more funding now be on the way?
Though advocates hailed the additional $2.37 billion of federal child care funding in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 as “truly historic,” they are seeking more funding for the program, which still only serves about 1 in 6 eligible children. Early-education groups asked Congress for another $5 billion for fiscal 2020; House Democrats proposed adding about half of that, $2.4 billion next year. Long-term, it would probably take about $100 billion annually to cover every eligible child, said Jay Nichols, director of federal policy and government affairs at Child Care Aware of America, based on current spending and the number of eligible children served. Policymakers would also have to address widespread child care deserts, where providers simply aren’t available. To allow states to make more long-term plans, much of that funding should come from mandatory sources, meaning it wouldn’t be subject to congressional whims, he added.
More than a year after teachers across the country began walking out of their classrooms en masse to demand higher salaries, at least 15 states have given their teachers a raise. And lawmakers in several more states are putting the final touches on plans to raise teacher salaries, according to an Education Week analysis. For their part, teachers have mostly welcomed the raises, but some have said the increases don’t go far enough, especially after what they see as years of legislative inaction. Here’s what you need to know about each state’s plan (as of June 17) to raise teacher pay.