Monday, July 21, 2014

How the Kansas Courts Have Permitted and May Remedy Racial Funding Disparities in the Aftermath of Brown

Preston Green, Bruce Baker, and Joseph Oluwole's new article, How the Kansas Courts Have Permitted and May Remedy Racial Funding Disparities in the Aftermath of Brown, is now available on westlaw at 53 Washburn L.J. 439 (2014).  The introduction summarizes it as follows:

After the Brown v. Board of Education decision, black students have primarily used school desegregation and school finance litigation to attain equal educational opportunity. School desegregation litigation has focused primarily on breaking down the official barriers that prevented black students from attending public schools with white students. School finance litigation has sought “to increase the amount and equalize the distribution of educational resources and, in so doing, to improve the academic opportunities and performance of students disadvantaged by existing finance schemes.” This Article explains how the failure of the two legal strategies to address racial funding disparities in the aftermath of Brown enabled the Kansas legislature to create a school finance formula that disadvantaged the school districts affected by that famous decision. This Article also explains how Kansas's recent school finance litigation may provide insight as to how state education clauses might be used to enable students in high-black-concentration school districts to obtain equal educational opportunity.

July 21, 2014 in Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Court Holds Oklahoma's Repeal of Common Core Curriculum Does Not Violate State Board's Authority

The Oklahoma Board of Education brought suit claiming that the legislative repeal of Common Core in the state violated the Board's constitutional authority over the "supervision of instruction in the public schools."  On Tuesday, the state supreme court heard oral arguments in the case.  Four hours later, they issued their decision, Pack v. State, remarkable in its brevity.   It stated the issue in one sentence, declared jurisdiction over the case in two sentences, and reached its holding in one sentence: "HB 3399 does not violate art. 13, §5 or art. 4, §1 of the Oklahoma Constitution."  

The court was apparently especially sensistive to the fact that school starts in just a few weeks and this issue should not be left hanging.  There is, of course, the danger of sacrificing thoughtfulness and accuracy at the alter of efficiency, but this quick decision begs the question of why some other state courts are so willing to let the quality and financing of educational instruction hang in the balance for years without issuing a definitive ruling.  Granted, school finance and quality cases involve far more complex facts, but the potential consitutional violation of students rights demands no less of a sense of urgency.  Moreover, the facts in those cases are rarely disputed.  Rather, the fight is more often on questions of law and judicial authority.

July 17, 2014 in Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

David Sciarra and Billy Easton Weigh In on New York's Teacher Tenure Lawsuit

The Times Union ran this commentary by David Sciarra and Billy Easton yesterday.  Thanks to David for sharing.

Sound Education Child's Right

With much fanfare, a novel lawsuit filed in Staten Island alleges teacher tenure, due process and lay-off procedures violate the constitutional right of New York school children to a "sound basic education."

Without offering specifics, the complaint baldly asserts that these procedures result in classrooms filled with "incompetent" teachers, especially in schools serving at-risk students.

The complaint also presents no evidence to suggest that ending tenure or altering due process protections for teachers will somehow improve student outcomes. Nor could it because there is none.

This lawsuit gets one thing right: Children in high poverty, urban and rural school districts across the state are indeed being deprived their constitutional right to a sound basic education. What it gets completely wrong is why: the state's continuing failure to fairly fund high need schools so they can recruit, support and retain effective teachers and deliver rich instruction in math, science, world languages, the arts and other core subjects under optimal working conditions.

The right to a sound basic education was fleshed out by New York's highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity rulings. The court established a template of "essential resources" that must be provided to all school children: reasonable class size, a sufficient number of qualified teachers, support services, books, computers and laboratories, and adequate facilities.

In response to CFE, the Legislature enacted the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, with an increase of over $5 billion in state aid phased in over four years. After two years, the state walked away from its commitment to our most disadvantaged children and schools. The funding shortfall now totals a staggering $5.7 billion, with the greatest impact on schools with the highest need.

This severe underfunding has devastated the teaching corps in our most challenging classrooms. Districts have cut teachers by the thousands, even in schools with increasing enrollments. In five years, Yonkers cut 500 staff members, losing half of the reading teachers and all math coaches. Schenectady has shed 40-50 positions annually, cutting music teachers by half, and letting go librarians, instructional coaches and writing instructors.

Cohoes has seen a 21 percent staff reduction, including teachers in foreign language, arts, science, reading, special education and English as a Second Language.

Predictably, these staff reductions have sparked drastic increases in class size. Teachers now routinely face classes of 30 students or more. Schools are now denuded of art, music and foreign language. Many have no librarians. AP courses, electives, sports and clubs are no longer offered. Guidance counselors, social workers, reading specialists, and nurses are in short supply. Extended learning time and summer school are long gone.

Of course, the lawsuit challenging the process by which teachers get tenure and are laid off doesn't mention the unprecedented loss of teachers and essential resources in Utica, Poughkeepsie, Jamestown or dozens of other struggling communities across the state. Nor does it even acknowledge the state's stubborn resistance to fair school funding as the cause.

Let's face reality. Even if teacher tenure and work rules are tweaked, as the Legislature recently did, it will do nothing to ensure New York's most vulnerable children are served by an effective workforce of teachers and support staff, at levels sufficient to deliver a sound basic education.

The good news is parents and students across New York know better. They have stepped up by the thousands to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators know that they will no longer tolerate an underfunded, under-resourced, third-rate education. And they will not be distracted by frivolous, irrelevant lawsuits.    

David Sciarra is executive director of the Education Law Center. Billy Easton is executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.                                         

July 16, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Legal Right to Education: How Does the United States Stack Up Internationally?

An interesting new student note, taking an international comparitive law approach to the right to education, is now available on westlaw.  See Yanet Marisol Beniteza, The Right to Education: Comparing Educational Rights in Japan, El Salvador, and the United States, 36 Hous. J. Int'l L. 749 (2014).  The introduction states:

Education is fundamental in the developmental stages of children and is generally referred to as “the key which allows people to move up in the world, seek better jobs, and ultimately succeed in their lives.” The subject of education in the United States is one that is widely discussed, and calls for education reform have been made. Not only is this the case in the United States, but also in countries around the world. This is such a high-priority topic in the international community that several international instruments guarantee the right to basic education. The right to education was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of a Child, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This Comment will analyze the right to education as found in these three international instruments; the interpretation of the right to education by signatories of these treaties; and the steps that nations have taken in order to ratify the treaties.

In addition to analyzing the right to education as found in international instruments, this Comment will also focus on how these rights have been interpreted. Although the right to education has been universally recognized, education systems vary by country. Several nations have ratified the right to basic education either through their constitutions, legislation, or ratification of the treaties, but each has interpreted the right to basic education differently. These different interpretations have led to different education laws, policies, and practices. 

July 14, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Illinois to Change the Way It Funds Schools, Congress Should Pay Attention

This spring and summer, the Illinois legislature has been working to reform the way it funds schools.  This move is rather remarkable given that the state has been sued so many times for its inequitable funding, the courts have dismissed the claim as nonjusticiable each time, and, for the past few decades, the state has had one of the most inequitable funding systems in the country.

A bill reforming the funding formula has passed the state senate, but did not make it to the house in time for full consideration prior to the summer recess.  A special session may be called to deal with the bill.  If not, it will be at the top of the agenda for the next session.  Either way, there is significant optimism that it will eventually pass.

The current bill would consolidate the current funding formulas into one that prioritizes funding based on student need.  Several districts stand to substantially benefit.  The state board of education noted these projected increases: 

- Rockford $18.5 million 17.5% increase
- Harlem $2 million 8.7% increase
- Belvidere $3.1 million 12.1% increase
- North Boone $926,000 17.1% increase
- Hononegah $101,000 2.2% increase
- Freeport $3 million 18.1% increase

The move toward student need is standard fare in states wishing to equalize schools.  No school funding formula is fair unless it prioritizes student need.  The consolidation of funding formulas is interesting for less obvious technical reasons.  When a state or the federal government creates too many distinct funding streams, they have the capacity to counteract one another.  As I explain here, Congress's practice of just adding new Title I formulas (funding for low-income students) without eliminating old ones has prevented it from addressing the inequalities it aims to correct.  Even worse, Congress has actually exacerbated some inequalities through its multiple complex formulas.  Illinois simply admits that its multiple formulas lack transparency and predictability.  Regardless, kudos to Illinois for doing the right thing (assuming things progress as planned).  Congress should take note in its next reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  If one of the nation's worst offenders is willing to change course, surely Congress can do the same.

It is important to note, however, that some local advocates remain upset that Illinois is not proposing to increase K-12 aid overall.  It is just redistributing it. The per-pupil aid in the state has consistently fallen below advisory board recommendations.

July 11, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Study Links Funding to Student Achievement, But Also Finds Many Schools Lack Sufficient Funds While Others Misallocate What They Have

The Center for American Progress has released an updated study of school district spending practices.  It attempts to measure "bang for buck," assessing the extent to which schools spend money in ways that improve achievement.  Accepted is the notion that "money matters," but not all schools know how to best divert their funds.  The study, Return on Educational Investment: 2014, makes the following major findings:

 

• Low educational productivity remains a deeply pressing problem, with billions
of dollars lost in low-capacity districts. . . .

• Some of the nation’s most affluent school systems show a worrying lack of
productivity. Our analysis showed that after accounting for factors outside of
a district’s control, many high-spending districts posted middling productivity
results. For example, only slightly more than one-third of the districts in the top
third in spending were also in the top third in achievement.

• In some districts, spending priorities are clearly misplaced. Texas is one of
the few states that report athletic spending at the district level, and the state’s
data suggest that more than 100 districts in Texas spend upward of $500 per student
on athletics.2 A few districts in Texas spend more than $1,000 per student
annually on athletics. To keep these numbers in perspective, the average unadjusted
per-pupil operating expenditure in the state in 2013 was around $10,000.

• State approaches to improving fiscal effectiveness vary widely. Only a few
states, such as Rhode Island, currently take a weighted-student funding based
approach to education, where money is distributed to schools based on student
need. . . .
• States have failed to make fiscal equity a priority and large funding gaps
exist across school districts. In our analysis, we calculated the expenditure difference
between a district that spends near the top and near the bottom in each
state. . . . [W]e found that gaps among school districts remain high. In New Jersey, the difference between the wealthiest districts and the least wealthy district was $6,200, after
adjusting for cost of living and student demographics.

• State budget practices are often inconsistent and opaque. Key expenditurerelated
definitions vary, and while almost every state now has a common chart of
accounts—a type of budget dictionary—the specifics are not comparable across
states. 

July 9, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Keep the Promise" to Fund Schools as Colorado's Constitution Requires by Molly Hunter

Seeking to enforce the will of Colorado voters, who amended their state constitution to guarantee reasonable school funding, citizens from around Colorado filed a lawsuit, Dwyer v. State of Colorado, on June 27, 2014.

Amendment 23 was passed by voters in 2000 after the state had fallen increasingly behind other states in funding public education. It required, at a minimum, that the state gradually catch up to its own 1988 spending level and then hold steady. Yet despite this clear mandate for minimal annual increases in education funding, the state violated Amendment 23 starting in 2010 by repeatedly cutting education funding using a mechanism called the "negative factor." Instead of honoring the voters' intent for increased investment in education, the state has cut education funding by over a billion dollars per year.

"Keep the promise of Amendment 23," said Tim Macdonald, of the Arnold & Porter law firm, co-lead attorney on the case. "The voters did not trust the State to maintain funding for K-12 education, so they passed a constitutional amendment to force the State to do so. Although the State complied for a decade, when times got tough, they sacrificed our kids by slashing funding by $1 billion, each year," he explained.

Communities have seen the painful results of these cuts. In places like Kit Carson school district, struggling families have had to dig deep into their pockets in order to fundraise for basic educational necessities as well as "luxuries" like instruments and uniforms so that their children can have a music program. New and updated books are non-existent and administrations have been unable to replace retiring teachers in core classes. For example, schools that were able to provide reading classes to students before the budget cuts are no longer able to provide them to younger students.

All across the state, painful budget cuts have resulted in the loss of educational opportunities for students that are vital to preparing them for citizenship, post secondary education and the workforce.

"The General Assembly's misinterpretation of Amendment 23 has resulted in drastic cuts in educational services and programs in direct contradiction of the voters' intent when they passed Amendment 23," explained co-lead attorney Kathleen Gebhardt, Executive Director of Children's Voices. "This isn't theoretical. The cuts have caused great and lasting harm to schools and children around the state. Jobs have been lost, programs have been cut, and students have lost out on individual attention and critical interventions."

When Colorado's voters approved Amendment 23, they expected the legislature to act in good faith, sharing the voters' commitment to healthy public schools. Because the legislature has failed the voters and failed to uphold the Constitution, it is necessary to turn to the courts. As citizens, we all have a right to expect our government to act responsibly and honorably and to uphold clear constitutional rights.

"As voters, we thought we were approving a positive factor for education, but instead the state gave us a negative factor. Our students are losing opportunities to help prepare them for the workforce. This reality is all too real for students around the state and we cannot wait any longer to keep the promise Colorado made to its kids fourteen years ago," said Lindi Dwyer, lead Plaintiff in the suit, "The state can't just ignore the constitution."

"Colorado is near the bottom of the nation in funding education. The Legislature's continuing failure is depriving the state's children of critical resources needed to succeed in school," said leading education rights attorney David Sciarra of Education Law Center. "Given the Legislature's refusal to act, it's time for the court to step in and safeguard the education rights of Colorado's 1 million public school children." 

Plaintiffs include parent/taxpayers, the statewide Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, the Colorado PTA, and several school districts. Defendants include the State, the Commissioner of Education, and the Governor. 

July 8, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 7, 2014

New York Lawsuit Alleging Teacher Tenure Laws Violate Student Rights Filed

The New York lawsuit pitting students rights against teachers, based on the same theory as Vergara in California, has been filed.  The plaintiffs claim that N.Y.'s current tenure laws "violate the State Constitution's guarantee of a 'sound basic education' by making it difficult to fire bad teachers and by protecting the most veteran teachers in the event of layoffs, regardless of their quality."  Both this case and the recent decision in California are monumental and the road ahead is far from certain.  As Michael Rebell remarks, "[i]t is basically unprecedented for a court to get into the weeds of a controversial education policy matter like this."  The New York Times article on the case is here.

 

July 7, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Expert Witnesses, Judicial Inferences, and the Case of California's Teachers

Two weeks ago, a California trial court sent shock waves through the education system by holding that California statutes that limit the removal of ineffective teachers and disproportionately expose poor and minority students to these teachers violate those students' fundamental right to education.  This holding raises major issues regarding the identification and measurement of ineffective teachers.  We might know that there are ineffective teachers, but reliably identifying them is another matter altogether.  

The current position of the federal government and many other education reformers is that ineffective teachers can be identified through value-added modeling (VAM) that statistical measures the impact that particular teachers have on student growth from year to year.  Two of the leading proponents of this approach are Professors Raj Chetty and Tom Kane of Harvard.   The judge's opinion in Vergara relies heavily on Chetty and Kane for its factual predicates, without directly addressing their underlying assumptions in regard to (VAM) and the identification of ineffective teachers.   In pertinent part, the judge writes:

Vergara

I am one of the most firmly committed individuals to the notion that students' constitutional rights to education are sacrosanct and among the very first obligations of legislatures.  I would also tend to agree that disproportionately exposing poor and minority teachers to ineffective teachers and cutting off remedies to this problem violate students' rights.  But over time, I become increasingly less certain of exactly how we apply those two legal principles to real world facts.  The judge in Vergara identifies the problem, but seems to assume its factual cause and remedy.

 

 

June 24, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 23, 2014

State Admits Violating the Education Rights of Philadelphia School Children by David Sciarra

Newsworks published this essay last week by David Sciarra:

In March, Philadelphia's state-operated school district filed an extraordinary legal complaint with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The lawsuit asks the Court to approve changes in school staffing levels and the way teachers are transferred and laid off, effectively nullifying portions of a collective bargaining agreement between the Philadelphia School District and the teachers union.

Much attention has focused on the district's request for changes in teacher staffing and work rules. But unnoticed is the district's stark admission of the deplorable conditions that Philadelphia's school children must endure after 17 years of direct state control over their education.

In the court filing, the district says it wants to ease lay-off and transfer rules caused by an "unprecedented gap" between available funding and what's needed just to maintain services at "prior year" levels. The district then describes the services it hopes to maintain, levels so palpably inadequate as to fall far below even minimum education standards.

The complaint details the sub-basic education programs and support services now in district-operated schools. The district describes teacher and support staff as "bare bones," at levels "20 percent smaller than the year before and 33 percent than just three years ago." The district concedes it has made "very steep" layoffs, a one-third reduction in employees in just three years, leaving schools with "barely adequate" staffing.

The district goes on to catalogue a parade of resource deficits plaguing the system: over 40 schools with no guidance counselor of its own; three-fourths of schools with no librarian assistant; and "significant cuts" to instructional materials and supplies, enrichment opportunities for students, extracurricular activities, administrative support and school cleaning services. And, of course, as parents of Philadelphia children know all too well: closing 24 neighborhood public schools.

The complaint also acknowledges the "short supply" of school nurses, a fact familiar to Philadelphians in light of the deaths of two young students in schools lacking a full-time nurse in recent months.

Even more remarkable, the district pinpoints the state's $300 million aid cut in 2011-12 as being at the "root" of these serious deficiencies. And the district presents no evidence that the relief it asks for — making teacher layoffs and transfers easier — will generate any real budgetary savings. The district doesn't offer the Court a plan for bringing teacher and support staff back to reasonable levels, reducing class size, providing interventions to struggling students, and keeping neighborhood schools open, safe and clean.

The district's filing is the legal equivalent of asking the Supreme Court for permission to rearrange deck chairs on a fast-sinking ship.

What the district's complaint avoids is stating the obvious: the abject failure to provide city students with the basic resources necessary to achieve Pennsylvania's own academic standards. And the reason why is also obvious: The school district — and the entire state — is engaged in an ongoing and severe violation the right of Philadelphia students to a "thorough and efficient" education under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Aside from the school district, the state and the teachers union, Philadelphia school children are not represented before the Court. At a minimum, the Court should appoint special counsel to represent their fundamental interest at stake in the case: the opportunity for an education to prepare them for productive employment and engaged citizenship.

It is also imperative that the Court, in considering the lawsuit, direct the District and State Education Department produce a substantive, concrete plan of action to promptly address the severe deprivation of basic resources endemic in Philadelphia's State-operated schools.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the last-resort guarantor of the right of Philadelphia children to a constitutional education. The evidence in the district's complaint is overwhelming: Education in Philadelphia schools is neither thorough nor efficient. The state, through the school district and the Department of Education in Harrisburg, has utterly failed these children. It's now up to the Court to act on their behalf.

David also addressed similar issues in the California school teachers' lawsuit here.

June 23, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Linking Special Education Funding to Poverty

A western Pennsylvania newspaper did some number crunching on school funding, disability, and poverty levels in the area.  The paper found that "[o]f the 117 school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania, 40 educated a higher-than-average population of both special education and low-income students during the 2012-13 school year."  And "that districts that serve low-income families are more likely to have higher percentages of special-education students. All but 12 of the 52 districts that serve communities with more than 41 percent of students identified as low-income also have a higher than average percent of special-education students.  Comparatively, of the 65 districts serving fewer low-income families than average, only 21 have more than 15.3 percent of students identified as special education."

The paper turned to experts to help explain the phenomenon.  The response "districts serving poor families deal with several issues that can affect whether a student is identified as special education, . . . including inadequate prenatal care, poor nutrition, and a fetal drug and alcohol problems."  Lump on top of that the fact that these poor communities tend to have low tax bases, which means their capacity to fund educational in general is limited.  In short, these poor communities experience a perfect storm: student poverty, high levels of disability, and underfunded schools regardless of demographics.  

The proposed solution was to make a district's socioeconomic status a factor in special education funding, rather than relying on flat amount.  At first glance, that sounds like an appropriate response, although countermeasures are likely also necessary so as to ward of perverse incentives in the identification of disability, which may already exist to some extent and explain so overidentification.  Regardless, raising these issues in the context of western Pennyslvania is particularly important because, other than  Pittsburgh, the area is is largely rural and white, with significant percentages of poverty and undereducation.  These demographics take race out of the picture.  All too often, issues of poverty are equated with or clouded by issues of race, impeding a fair and objective look at and response to the problem.  That does not, however, mean a solution will be forthcoming.  My suspicion is that, as poor and rural districts, these Pennsylvania communities still have limited political sway.

As a side note, those interested in poverty and disability should read James Ryan's recent article discussing the relevance of poverty in the identification of individual students' disabilities.

June 18, 2014 in School Funding, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Inhibiting Intrastate Inequalities: A Congressional Approach to Ensuring Equal Opportunity to Finance Public Education

Michigan Law Review has published an interesting student note, Inhibiting Intrastate Inequalities: A Congressional Approach to Ensuring Equal Opportunity to Finance Public Education, by Joshua Arocho.  It is primarily a policy argument, premised on Congress using its spending legislation to encourage states to adopt a "Guaranteed Tax Base" for all districts.  The abstract states:

The United States has exhibited a strong commitment to public education throughout its history. The local control of education long associated with the United States' federal system, however, has led to extreme inequalities in education finance within states. This reality, held constitutionally permissible by the Supreme Court in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, is a product of heavy reliance on local property taxation as a means to fund schools. Although levying property taxes is a permissible state action to promote local control of education, its unaltered use is archaic and ultimately detrimental due to the United States' growing income gap and corresponding wealth segregation in the housing markets. Because federal and state court litigation has produced an intractable and inequitable split in education policy that remains unsolved by current federal- and state-led initiatives, this Note argues that a conditional congressional grant of funds would serve as a new, more politically feasible solution to this problem. By making federal funding under the next reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act contingent on states' adoption of new school finance systems, particularly the Guaranteed Tax Base, Congress can encourage states to give all communities an equal opportunity to finance a high-quality education for their students, regardless of the value of their taxable property.

Download the full article here.

June 11, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

California Court Finds That Teacher Tenure Rights Violate Students Rights

LaJuana and I both posted on Vergara v. California (here and here) earlier this spring.  The lawsuit alleged that statutes that keep ineffective teachers in place violate students' fundamental right to education (under the state constitution) by subjecting students to subpar educational opportunity. According to LA School Report, the judge agreed this morning:

It was a total win for the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, giving them a victory on all counts in the case, aimed at striking down five laws that govern tenure, seniority and dismissal. Judge Rolf Treu stayed any changes in the laws, pending appeals.

The decision is temporary, and final judgement may take as long as 30 days, depending upon any changes or modifications to the ruling.

Teacher tenure lawsuits have dominated recent events.  Just yesterday, I posted on North Carolina's.  California's suit, however, is distinct.  In California, the court decision is saying that giving teacher's extensive tenure protections is unconstitutional.  In North Carolina, the court held that taking those rights away from teachers is unconstitutional.  Tomorrow I will post on another lawsuit in Texas similar to North Carolina's.  All of these cases will eventually be decided by higher courts.  Although in different jurisdictions, the challenge will be developing coherent doctrine that does not create intractable positions between teacher rights, student rights, and policy developments.  No easy trick.

June 10, 2014 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Complete Privitization of Public Education in Delaware? Not Yet

The Republican leadership in the Delaware House has introduced legislation that would allow state per pupil expenditures on education to follow the child, even if the student goes to private school. Every state has a funding formula that allots state funds to local school districts based on the number of children they serve.  For each child, the state directs a set amount of funding to the district, typically $7,000  to more than $10,000 per pupil, depending on the state.  The Delaware legislation would allow students to have those funds directed to a private school.  This is distinct from a voucher program, which technically does not draw on the state public education funds and is not tied to per pupil formulas.  Allowing private schools to tap into the state per pupil allotments would be a first.  

From one perspective, the legislation would not entirely revamp the current philosophy of educational choice and funding.  It would create a funding stream analogous to some charter school laws.  Charter schools draw a per pupil allotment from the state and are not part of the traditional public school system.  In addition to a charter, under this bill, students could also go to a private school.

From another perspective, this bill would fundamentally change education in Delaware.  Charters have to be authorized and still operate under some level of state oversight.  This legislation would remove all government oversight and decision making in regard to state per pupil funding outside of public schools. Decisionmaking would be entirely consumer based and, thus, the bill would completely privatize a portion of public education funding.  I have previously warned of the dangers of unregulated public education policies and those that would place public schools in a competitive environment that is per se to their disadvantage, so I won't rehash them here. To the legislation's credit, it does offer one hedge against some of those dangers.  It phases out the applicability of the law for higher income families.

Households with income low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch would receive the same amount as a school district would get to educate their child. For last year, that means $43,568 for a family of four. Families that earn less than 1.5 times that amount would get 75 percent; families than earn between 1.5 times and twice the amount to qualify would get half, and families that earn between 2 and 2.5 times the amount to qualify would get a quarter.

The remainder of that student's allotment would go to their home district as normal.

For those taking the skeptical perspective, take a breath.   The bill was introduced by the minority leadership, not the majority, in the Delaware House.  Even they admit the passage of this bill is a long term project.

June 10, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Zuckerberg to Give $120 Million to San Francisco Bay Area Schools

Last week, I discussed claims that Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the Newark public schools has been mismanaged and wasted.  While the reports on Newark suggest a program flawed from the outset, Zuckerberg is not willing to concede the fact.  "The schools and programs that the folks put in place, only now are they ramping up and students are starting to go through them. So you won't know what the outcomes are until like 5, 7, 10 years from now," he said. "That said, I think there are some things that are going generally better than we'd expected and some things that we've definitely taken as lessons."  In short, its too early to tell.  But if half of what local papers in Newark report is true, Zuckerberg is delusional or just extending the event horizon, assuming that people will stop watching before we reach it.

Zuckerberg and his wife are so confident that they are doubling down on the bet they made in Newark's schools, pledging another $120 million to San Francisco Area schools.  Their rhetoric aside, they appear to have learned a few lessons from Newark.  The money looks like it will be earmarked and doled out in smaller increments.  The San Francisco Gate writes, "The first $5 million of the $120 million will go to school districts in San Francisco, Ravenswood and Redwood City and will focus on principal training, classroom technology and helping students transition from the 8th to the 9th grade."  This is distinct from the larger blank checks that Newark seemed to have received.   It still, however, begs the question of the educational and pedagogical premises underlying the programs to be funded.  Money definitely matters, but how it is spent matters just as much.

June 2, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Cautionary Tale: How Money Is Spent Matters

Many may recall Mark Zuckerberg's announcement in 2010 that he would donate $100 million to Newark schools.  Four years later, it appears the money has had little if any positive effect on the schools.  Does this show money does not matter?  No.  It shows the obvious point: how money is spent matters.  When discussing Newark's situation with a long time school finance advocate, she remarked, "we have always said that school finance litigation is not about money; it's about creating opportunity."  Therein lies the fatal flaw in how the powers that be have spent the Zuckerberg money.  According to recent reports, very little of it has been spent on creating opportunity.

The Business Insider and The New Yorker tell the story of a naive Mark Zuckerberg turning over the money with almost no strings attached, Cory Booker and Mark Christie gaining the freedom to spend the money outside the normal public laws and procedures because it was a charitable donation rather than public money, and half-baked, ever changing educational strategies.  In the end, the money apparently did very little to transform and improve the instructional staff in Newark schools, which was purportedly the original goal.  According to The New Yorker, Between 2010 and 2012, more than $20 million "went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, [and] teacher evaluation," with many individual consultants being paid more than $1,000 a day.  

How could this happen?  The New Yorker posits that venture capitalists, even in their philanthropic ventures, bet on people as much as ideas.  Zuckerberg bet on Booker's magnetic personality, but neither had the educational expertise to put that magnetism to good work.

For details on how the backstory and how the money was spent, see The New Yorker and Business Insider stories here and here.

May 23, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rhode Island Rejects School Funding Challenge

Molly Hunter, Education Law Center, offered this summary and analysis of the case:
 
RI Supreme Court is 'Deeply Concerned' but Denies Relief to School Children
 
On May 3, 2014, the Rhode Island Supreme Court dismissed the fair school funding case, Woonsocket v. State. The Court concluded that conditions in the plaintiffs' schools "make a strong case" against the current funding system. Nonetheless, the justices denied plaintiffs the chance to present their evidence in a trial on the merits of the case.
 
The Court wrote, "We emphasize that we are deeply concerned by the conditions of the schools in Pawtucket and Woonsocket as alleged by plaintiffs, as well as by the alleged predicaments of those municipalities regarding their inabilities to allocate the funding required to meet state mandates. Installing a means of providing adequate educational opportunities to every child in the state is not only an admirable goal; it is 'perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.'" (quoting the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education)
 
In its written opinion, the Court summarized plaintiffs' allegations, which detail the state's adoption of higher and higher standards while failing to align funding to those standards. Insufficient resources mean students do not have the opportunity to reach the standards, plaintiffs assert. More recently, the state went so far as to cap local taxing authority so that municipalities attempting to make up for state shortfalls were not allowed to do so, plaintiffs add.
 
The Court also quoted plaintiffs' complaint with regard to the most recent funding formula adopted by the state in 2010, noting that the formula "fails to provide adequate resources to allow children, especially in poor, urban communities, to obtain a quality education [and] a reasonable opportunity to meet the [state's] academic standards." The Court summarized plaintiffs' description of the dire state of school facilities, books, and supplies, and the low test scores that flow from the state's allegedly inadequate funding.
 
The state defendants filed a motion to dismiss this case, and the Court explained that its decision on the motion depended on interpretation of the Rhode Island Constitution's Education Clause, which states that:
The diffusion of knowledge, as well as of virtue among the people, being essential to the preservation of their rights and liberties, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to promote public schools, and to adopt all means which they may deem necessary and proper to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.
Although earlier precedent held that the Rhode Island General Assembly has exclusive authority over school funding, plaintiffs argued that repeal of a particular clause in the state constitution rendered that precedent irrelevant for the Woonsocket case. Plaintiffs also claimed that changes since the earlier precedent meant the state had replaced local control with state mandates. However, after an analysis of the impact of that repeal and other changes, the Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly's broad discretion in how it complies with the Education Clause was not impaired.
 
The Court indicates that the political branches could solve the problem of school funding without a court order by improving the states' system. But the justices appear to ignore the General Assembly's history of allocating inadequate funding for schools in low-wealth communities.
 
Based on that history and the current ruling, it appears that meaningful relief and educational opportunity will come to the students in under-resourced Rhode Island communities only if and when voters amend and strengthen the state constitution's education clause. Only then will future plaintiffs with similar claims finally be granted their day in court. Some education advocates are proposing such an amendment.

May 16, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Funding Inequity Lawsuits Filed Against New Mexico

Two funding inequity lawsuits were recently filed challenging New Mexico's education system. The first alleges that ELL and economically disadvantaged students are receiving a substandard education under the state's funding scheme and A-F grading system. In State v. Martinez, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the plaintiffs assert that New Mexico's underfunding of public education and its school rating system violates the state's education clause, due process, and equal protection. The state's education funding formula, the plaintiffs allege, fails to allocate sufficient supplemental funds for areas were the needs are greatest for at-risk and special needs students. In spending per pupil, New Mexico reportedly spends $9,070 per student, ranking 37th in the nation. The suit also targets "unfair and non-transparent school accountability grading and teacher evaluation systems that drive quality teachers and leaders from schools disproportionately enrolling English Learner ("EL") and low-income students." The funding inequity, combined with the teacher evaluation system, results in experienced teachers avoiding lower-ranked schools. The MALDEF suit is here.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP)  is also challenging the state's funding scheme for families of New Mexican students. The CLP suit notes that New Mexico's student standardized test performance has fallen to the bottom of the nation. On standardized tests given in the last two years, New Mexico's students ranked at bottom of the country in 4th grade reading and are just ahead of the bottom -- Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana -- in math. Contributing to the problem is the state's high child poverty rate, which is the second highest in the nation. Given those factors, the CLP suit argues, New Mexico's education system is severely underfunded. The CLP suit is here

April 23, 2014 in Cases, News, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Transcending Equality Versus Adequacy

Joshua Weishart's new article, Transcending Equality Versus Adequacy, 66 Stan. L. Rev. 477 (2014), is now available on Westlaw.  For those interested in school finance and equal opportunity, it is a must read.  It is probably the most in-depth treatment of the theory behind school finance and educational opportunity published in the last one to two decades.  Professor Weishart focuses on what others have only hinted at: the reciprocal relationship between equality and adequacy.  As such, he proposes that our approach should be to deliver "adequately equal and equally adequate" educational opportunities (rather than just equal or adequate education).  His abstract is as follows:

A debate about whether all children are entitled to an “equal” or an “adequate” education has been waged at the forefront of school finance policy for decades. In an era of budget deficits and harsh cuts in public education, I submit that it is time to move on.

Equality of educational opportunity has been thought to require equal spending per pupil or spending adjusted to the needs of differently situated children. Adequacy has been understood to require a level of spending sufficient to satisfy some absolute, rather than relative, educational threshold. In practice, however, many courts interpreting their states' constitutional obligations have fused the equality and adequacy theories. Certain federal laws express principles of both doctrines. And gradually, more advocates and scholars have come to endorse hybrid equality-adequacy approaches. Still, the debate persists over seemingly intractable conceptual precepts and their political and legal ramifications.

Tracking the philosophical origins and evolution of equality and adequacy as legal doctrines, I explain the significance of their points of convergence and argue that the few points of divergence are untenable in practice. Equality of educational opportunity should not be interpreted as pursuing equal chances for educational achievement for all children, because that ideal is infeasible. Nor should educational adequacy be interpreted as completely indifferent to objectionable inequalities that can be feasibly curtailed. Properly conceived, equality and adequacy are not merely congruent but reciprocal. That is, children are owed an education that is adequately equal and equally adequate.

 

April 14, 2014 in Equity in education, Scholarship, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

MALDEF Sues New Mexico, Claiming Denial of Right to Education by Molly Hunter, Education Law Center

The Education Law Center shared the following story by Molly Hunter:

On April 1, 2014, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed a lawsuit, Louise Martinez v State of New Mexico, seeking to establish education as a fundamental right and to ensure that New Mexico's at-risk children are provided a sufficient education as required under the New Mexico Constitution.

"Every state has an obligation to prepare all of its students to succeed in the future, and New Mexico is failing in this duty with respect to far too many of its children and future leaders," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel.  "The courts must act to bring justice and equity to New Mexico's education system."

The parent plaintiffs and other supporting organizations challenge the State's denial of their children's constitutional right to access the educational opportunities they need to succeed in the classroom.  The complaint asserts that this right has been violated through a series of State-created arbitrary obstacles, including unfair and non-transparent school accountability grading and teacher evaluation systems that drive quality teachers and leaders from schools disproportionately enrolling English Learner (EL) and low-income students. 

Plaintiffs also complain of the arbitrary and inadequate funding for EL and economically disadvantaged students, as well as the State's failure to expand pre-kindergarten programs to ensure all at-risk students can access those programs. Plaintiffs further argue that the State's failure to support and implement fully the Indian Education Act, the Hispanic Education Act, and the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act deprive students of the cultural programs that are essential to a sufficient education as required under the New Mexico Constitution.

"Every year that passes, is another year of lost opportunity for New Mexican school children," stated MALDEF lead counsel David Hinojosa.  "It's time for the courts to step in and put an end to this egregious pattern of political pandering and neglect that only harms the children."

MALDEF began its investigation a couple of years ago following its discussions concerning the chronic achievement gaps with several local and state community groups, including the Latino Education Task Force, as well as local leaders and parents in New Mexico.  These gaps included 20-plus percentage points on the State's standardized tests, with less than one-half of the minority and at-risk students earning "proficient" ratings on their tests.  Following the substantial investigation, and another failed legislative session; the parents and children asked MALDEF to sue.  

Plaintiff parent Louise Martinezadded, "I went to the same school my daughter attends, and nothing has changed. The school is rated F, the classrooms are overcrowded, the kids need support, and violence is high. My children and all the children in New Mexico deserve better. Tomorrow is too late, we need to change New Mexico's education system now." 

April 3, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)