by Lukas Boehning
in the PIE Network on Thursday, April 28, 2016
In case you missed it, NPR teamed up with Education Week to release an astonishing map showing funding per pupil in every district across the country, compared to the national average. It shows from state to state and district to district, school funding is not equitable. While most people find the map shocking, advocates have been wrestling with this issue for a long time. NPR points out that much of the problem comes from the disparity in local property taxes. Yet, the state is largely responsible for resolving funding inequities.
Illinois, for example, is considered to have the most regressive funding system in the country, but Stand for Children – Illinois has advocated extensively for a solution. See here, here, and here (and here, here, and here). A new bill, Better Funding for Better Schools (SB231), may be what the state needs to solve Illinois’ funding equity problem once and for all. Jessica Handy, Government Affairs Director for the organization, writes, “after literally three years of advocacy around this issue, SB231 is the best chance we will have to see major funding reform happen this year.” Ginger Ostro, Executive Director of Advance Illinois adds “this proposed legislation is the result of years of planning, research, and feedback from so many in the education community. The time is now for action. We must demand better for all Illinois students, and the Better Funding for Better Schools proposal will finally provide an equitable funding formula for every school district across the state so all students can access the great education they deserve.”
The League of Education Voters’ (LEV) Policy Team writes “the State of Washington has made progress in funding in recent years.” Sparked by the 2012 McCleary Supreme Court decision, Washington has spent $3.2 billion in new investments for basic education over the last two budget cycles. The work is not over, however. The legislature is fined $100,000 per day by the Supreme Court until they fully fund public education. In response to this, the legislature created a task force to determine how to end the state’s over-reliance on local levies to pay teacher salaries and other components of basic education. Whether or not the court will be satisfied is the topic for discussion at LEV’s next Lunchtime LEVinar.
In Oklahoma, inadequate school funding has taken a toll on the teacher work force. According to Amber England, Executive Director of Stand for Children – Oklahoma, many teachers “say they’re taking on second jobs just to make ends meet.” That’s because Oklahoma ranks 48th in the nation in teacher pay. Fortunately, Stand for Children – Oklahoma has been laying the groundwork to improve Oklahoma’s ability to attract talented teachers for years. In 2013, it launched a Teachers Matter Campaign and released a report from their subsequent Listening Tour. Now, they advocate for State Question 779, which “will address the acute teacher shortage by bringing Oklahoma up to the regional average while giving teachers a more livable wage.”
Similarly, Arizona is faced with a massive teacher shortage due to budget shortfalls. Over 1,700 vacant teacher positions are filled by substitutes in the state. According to Cathleen O’Neil Frantz, Alhambra School District Board Member, “we are losing our best, our brightest, and our newest generation of educators to other states because of the pay gap.” That’s why Stand for Children – Arizona is running an #EdSquad campaign to rally supporters for a longterm funding solution in Arizona and supports Proposition 123, which seeks to allocate $3.5 billion for education funding. Expect More Arizona also supports Proposition 123: “Proposition 123 is a step in the right direction,” said Pearl Chang Esau the President and CEO of Expect More Arizona. “It allows Arizona to get resources to schools right away and sets the foundation for the long-term funding solution that is needed to support education in Arizona, including early education, K-12 and postsecondary education.”
In New Jersey, although the average cost per pupil is $19,211, one of the highest in the nation, the state’s funding system is still inequitable. Janellen Duffy, Executive Director of JerseyCAN, writes the 2008 School Funding Reform didn’t play out as it was intended to. JerseyCAN is working with state Senators to figure out ways to optimize school funding to boost student achievement and narrow the achievement gap.
As NPR points out, funding for schools largely comes from three sources – federal, state, and local governments. Although much of the inequity may stem from the disparity in local property taxes, state advocacy organizations are driving solutions that positively impact school funding through formulas and funding legislation. This new resource from NPR will help illuminate the urgency of this important work, and state education advocates will continue to push this issue to support vulnerable students.