Tuesday, December 16, 2014
In an Op-Ed the Philadelphia Inquirer, Secretary Duncan weighed in on funding inequity in Pennsylvania and the nation in general. He wrote, "until some glaring funding injustices are fixed, in Philadelphia and in many school systems around the country, we will never live up to our nation's aspirational promises of justice." He cited heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund education as the source of our problems. The result, he said, is to make the quality of education dependent on geography, which disparately impacts the highest need, lowest-income students. "The key to a fair funding formula is quite simple: Target aid to students who need it most, and adjust current levels of state aid to the districts that are already well supported," he wrote.
This is welcome commentary to school funding advocates and scholars. It mimics what they have said for decades. Duncan penned a similarly welcome Op-Ed on school segregation a year ago. Unfortunately, although there are exceptions, Duncan's activity on these issues has larger been confined to op-eds. In the last year, the Department has issued helpful policy guidance on both issues, but that guidance only came after several years of charters, curriculum, and teacher reform. Those latter agendas might be useful, but none of them touch fundamental inequalities in regard to funding and race. In other words, op-eds and stated intentions to begin tacking discrimination pale in comparison to what the Secretary has done in other areas.
One might excuse the Secretary on race (although I do not) because of the tight rope the Supreme Court requires him to walk, but the failure to address school funding inequity begs the question of what the Department's purpose is. Title I of the ESEA--probably the most important piece of legislation the Department oversees--was designed as a remedy to resource inequity and segregation in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then it has drifted far from its mission. Scholars and advocates have documented its numerous flaws and proposed reasonable solutions. Those solutions, nor anything approximating them, have been found in any of the Secretary's recommendations for reauthorizing Title I or his competitive grant programs.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Forbes magazine commissioned a study of the cost and benefits of the five big ideas for reforming education. The five big ideas will cost $6.2 trillion over 20 years and produce $225 trillion in additional gross domestic product. So what is the plan? Universal pre-k, teacher efficacy (attract, retain, and measure good teachers), school leadership (raise their salaries and give them the power to act like any other division head, including hiring and firing), blended learning (delivering rote information through technology and relying on teachers for value added instruction, which requires increasing computer and internet access), and common core curriculum.
Reduced to those headlines, it sounds simple. Reduced to the impressive financial spreadsheet, it sounds like a no brainer. To make sure, Forbes convened the top leaders from the four key constituent groups to ask whether the five big ideas are doable. The leaders were Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Randi Weingarten, and D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson. They generally agree that the plan is doable.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
At the beginning of the charter school experiment, charter school advocates touted their ability to provide a superior education at a lower cost than traditional public schools. Now, we are seeing the charter lobby abandon that claim and turn to the courts to demand equal funding for charter schools. In Texas, charter school advocates recently lost their claim for equal funding. In New York, charter school advocates have sued for equal facilities funding. In a ruling that may have wide ramifications, last week an Arizona appellate court affirmed a lower court's ruling that the differential funding systems for public and charter schools do not violate Arizona's constitution.
In Craven v. Huppenthal, parents of children in Arizona charter schools sued the state, claiming that Arizona's school funding scheme was unconstitutional because it caused "gross disparities between charter public schools and other public schools." The lower court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and defendant-intervenors the Arizona School Boards Association and Creighton Elementary School District No. 14. The plaintiff-parents appealed.
Friday, November 14, 2014
On November 10, 2014, Pennsylvania students and parents, school districts, and two statewide associations filed a lawsuit charging that the state's school funding system deprives students of their right to a "thorough and efficient" education, as guaranteed by the state constitution.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of devastating cuts to teachers, support staff, programs, and essential resources in Philadelphia, Reading, York, and many other high-poverty rural and urban communities across the state.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
The South Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision in its long running school finance case today. The Court affirmed, with modifications, the trial court decision on behalf of the plaintiff school districts. The Court emphasized that the winners in the case were the students in the plaintiff school districts. It also emphasized that although neither the state nor the school districts in this case had carried out their duties in education, there are no losers in the case. This is not the time to cast blame, but a time to move forward with solutions. The opinion is here.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
New Lawsuit Alleges that Pennsylvania’s School Funding Arrangement Denies Students an Adequate Education
Yesterday, plaintiffs in Pennsylvania sued to have the state's funding formula declared unconstitutional, alleging that the General Assembly has failed its state constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public education. Read the complaint and watch interviews with the plaintiffs at Thorough and Efficient, a joint blog of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. Cribbed from the plaintiffs' press release:
The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia sued Monday on behalf of six school districts, parents, and two statewide associations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public ducation. According to the complaint, the Commonwealth has known for nearly a decade that Pennsylvania’s schools are badly underfunded.
Beginning in 2011, however, state officials abandoned [a working] funding formula, reduced funding to districts by more than $860 million, and passed legislation to prevent local communities from increasing local funding. The complaint alleges that these actions have had devastating consequences for students, school districts, and the future of the Commonwealth. Districts across the state are unable to provide students with the basic elements of a quality education, including sufficient numbers of qualified teachers and staff, appropriate class sizes, suitable facilities, and up-to-date text books and technology. ...
Plaintiffs allege that this underfunding and consequent underperformance has created a system of public education that is neither “thorough” nor “efficient,” nor “serves the needs of the Commonwealth.” In a second cause of action, the complaint alleges that the current way in which the Commonwealth funds public education denies students equal educational opportunities by creating gross funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.
Friday, October 31, 2014
Earlier this month, the Thomas Fordham Institute issued a map based funding explorer of the D.C. area schools. It is not altogether clear to me what the Institute's motivations or goals were. It traditionally produces reports, whereas this is no more than an interactive map. If you dig hard enough, you can get it to produce some tables for you. Regardless, it includes a more robust set of data points than the average tool of this sort and is easy to use, so one (me) cannot help but play with it.
The thing that jumped out at me over and over is that there is no clear rhyme or reason to the funding in the schools. At the district level, the average per pupil expenditures in Alexandria, Arlington, and D.C. Public Schools fell between $15,000 and $15,700. Rough parity, however, only makes sense if the need is roughly equal. The majority of students in DC and Alexandria schools are low income, whereas two-thirds of Arlington students are middle income. Thus, while parity between DC and Alexandria makes sense, Arlington is likely overfunding its schools, or Alexandria and DC underfunding theirs.
Falls Church and Fairfax County schools only further defy a sensible trend. Both spend less than the afforementioned districts and both have less low income students. That gives one hope of rationality, until one compares Falls Church and Fairfax to one another. Low-income students are almost non-existent in Falls Church. One out of four is low income in Fairfax, but Fairfax spends $2,000 less than Falls Church per pupil. One might assume Fairfix is just poorer, but no. Both Fairfax and Falls Church are both wealthy by any account, and the average income of adults in Fairfax is actually slightly higher than Falls Church.
Monday, October 20, 2014
In the past months, I have commented on school finance litigation in New York, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Mississippi; reports decrying the state of funding in Georgia and Wisconsin; and steps by the Alabama Department of Education to propose constitutional changes to education funding in the state. For those wondering whether suing the state is just what education advocates do or if there is some underlying fundamental problem, a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers a simple explanation (although the report is about data, not school finance litigation). The title of the report, Most States Still Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession, belies the conclusion. The analysis found that:
- At least 30 states are providing less funding per student for the 2014-15 school year than they did before the recession hit. Fourteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent. (These figures, like all the comparisons in this paper, are in inflation-adjusted dollars and focus on the primary form of state aid to local schools.)
- Most states are providing more funding per student in the new school year than they did a year ago, but funding has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years. For example, Alabama is increasing school funding by $16 per pupil this year. But that is far less than is needed to offset the state’s $1,144 per-pupil cut over the previous six years.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Alabama's Department of Education is considering changing the way funds are distributed to schools throughout the state. The current approach does not take need into consideration. Rather, all students and districts are treated the same, with each receiving an equal per pupil allotment. The new formula under consideration would distribute the money based on need, meaning "both poor districts and districts seeking to teach special classes of students, including English Language Learners, at-risk students and those in special education." Since "such a change would require a major political effort that would almost certainly require a constitutional amendment," the Department is proceeding cautiously and not pushing the formula change yet. These first steps, however, are generating significant discussion and research within the department.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
A report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, 2014 Schoolhouse Squeeze, finds that cuts in state aid to public school have totaled $8.4 billion in recent years. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this has amounted to a 12% reduction between 2002-2015. Local funding, which provides 41% of school district revenues, has not made up the difference. In 89 districts that enroll 80% of the state’s students, school tax revenues have actual dipped an average of 20% in inflation-adjusted dollars, due to continued low property values resulting from the effects of the 2007 recession. Compounding the problem, the proportion of economically disadvantaged students in Georgia has increased 17% percent since 2002, and now represents 62% of the state’s student population. This growth means schools need more money, not less.
Friday, October 3, 2014
In 2012, in McCleary v. State, the Washington Supreme Court responded to the state's claim that federal education funds should be included in the analysis of whether the state was providing ample and dependable funds for education. The court balked:
[W]e find it difficult to characterize federal funding of certain education programs as a “regular and dependable tax source [ ],” id. at 523, 585 P.2d 71, for purposes of satisfying the State's obligation. Because federal dollars generally come with strings attached, the State may have little or no say on whether federal resources go toward the basic education program or some other program. Moreover, while federal funding is routed to school districts through the State's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), it is in a sense pass-through money for local school districts. Still, the State maintains that, to the extent federal funding defrays the cost of certain offerings in the basic education program, the State may rely on that funding in discharging its duty under article IX, section 1. This argument is tenable, though we emphasize that the State retains the ultimate responsibility for fully funding its basic education program.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The Office for Civil Rights released a lengthy Dear Colleague letter today that emphasizes the extent of resource inequalities in schools and its legal framework for evaluating whether those inequalities violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Many States, school districts, and schools across the Nation have faced shrinking budgets that
have made it increasingly difficult to provide the resources necessary to ensure a quality
education for every student. Chronic and widespread racial disparities in access to rigorous
courses, academic programs, and extracurricular activities; stable workforces of effective
teachers, leaders, and support staff; safe and appropriate school buildings and facilities; and
modern technology and high-quality instructional materials further hinder the education of
students of color today.
I would add middle income students to the list of "resources" to which students must have equal access. Half a century of research confirms that the most important school level determinate of an individual student's academic outcomes is the socio-economic status of the students with whom the student attends school. Middle income students and families bring social capital and other important resources to schools that heavily affect climate, motivation, and the other tangible resources that the Department references in its letter. In other words, student assignment policies cause resource inequalities. Thus, at the local level, student assignment cannot be separated from the conversation of resources, school quality, and academic outcomes.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
David Boies is making headlines again. This time it is by becoming the chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group founded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown to challenge teacher tenure laws. These lawsuits seek to use the precedent and constitutional right to education developed in school finance litigation. David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, has helped establish and develop these educational rights in a number of cases. His response is that if David Boies really wants to help education, he should join school funding lawsuits in New York, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Mississippi. Sciarra's comments strike at the irony of the new and impending upsurge in education litigation. Boies purports to be viewing education through a civil rights lens now, but to focus solely in on teacher tenure is to ignore any number of fundamental inequalities that stem from funding and segregation, not tenure. Even if tenure is a problem, eliminating it will do nothing to touch the underlying fundamental inequalities and segregation in schools that purportedly want to get rid of ineffective teachers but cannot.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Similar Lawsuits Expected in Other States
On September 15, 2014, the Northeast Charter Schools Network (NECSN) and charter parents filed a lawsuit against the State of New York, seeking more taxpayer support for charter schools, specifically for facilities.
The lawsuit, Brown v. New York, which was filed in Buffalo, claims the funding system used by the State to allocate money to charter schools violates the state constitution. The plaintiffs argue that the state funding formula denies children enrolled in charter schools access to a "sound basic education," as required by the New York State Constitution. Additionally, they allege that the funding scheme has a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on minority students.
The parent plaintiffs are from Buffalo and Rochester and are represented by Herrick, Feinstein LLP, Park Avenue, New York, NY.
As reported in the Rochester City Newspaper, the Alliance for Quality Education, a statewide group that advocates for high quality public education for all New York students, issued a statement calling the suit a "deceptive PR stunt." "Despite the fact that public schools are severely underfunded, Wall Street-backed charter school groups continue to use aggressive propaganda to win more public school dollars," the statement asserts.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
On September 8, 2014, the Forward Institute released a study that examines the Wisconsin school funding formula and finds that it does not fulfill its mandate to provide a sound, basic education as guaranteed by the state constitution and state statute.
The Association for Equity in Funding, a group of Wisconsin school districts, commissioned the study, which is entitled "Segregation of Opportunity: Education Funding."
The goal of the study was to answer the question, "Is the education tax and funding system in Wisconsin fulfilling its constitutionally and statutorily mandated function to provide a sound, basic education for all students regardless of need, without an excessive reliance on local property taxes?"
Monday, September 15, 2014
Bruce Baker's new study, Evaluating the Recession's Impact on State School Finance Systems, is now available. The abstract offers the following summary:
The Great Recession's effect on state school finance systems was unlike previous downturns in the early 1990s and early 2000s in that it a) involved a greater loss of taxable income in many states, thus great loss to state general fund revenues, b) also involved a substantial collapse of housing markets and related reduction or at least leveling of growth of taxable property wealthy, c) but also involved a substantive infusion of federal "fiscal stabilization" aid to be used to fill holes in state general aid formulas. The goal of this study is to evaluate the effects of the recession on equity of state school funding systems with respect to child poverty concentrations. Using school district level panel data from 1993 to 2011, we evaluate the interplay between local, state and federal source revenues through the course of the recent recession by comparison with the less severe economic downturn of the early 200s. Then using stat level estimates of elasticities between revenue and spending measures and district poverty rates, we estimate whether changes in the distribution of state, local or federal revenue contribute most to changes in overall equity of current spending and whether those contributions changed during the recent recession.
Among several conclusions was that increases in state increase spending fairness, as do increases in federal aid. The inverse is also generally true. Of course, it is far more complicated than that and warrants a close read.
Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a story on the filth in Chicago's public schools. One principal charges that ever since the school system turned over its janitorial services to private contractors (a $340 million contract), his school has been inundated with roaches, rats, and garbage. Nearly half of the district's principals reported the same in a recent survey. Things may very well get worse. One of the contractors is set to lay off approximately 20% of the custodians currently on the project.
The story closely intersects with a point I made in a recent paper on what makes education public and how private markets fit into education. I distinguished between publicly funded education and public education. I also distinguished the various services that the government delivers, positing that some services entailed public missions and value judgments, and others did not. I noted, for instance, that garbage pickup involves relatively little value judgment and mission development, whereas education does. Thus, one might be less concerned about the outsourcing of the former, and more concerned about the latter.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
In late August, a group of 14 school districts filed suit against the state of Mississippi, alleging that its failure to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Eduction Program since 2010 is unconstitutional. The suit seeks to recover past funds and to enjoin the state to fully fund the program in the future. According to the litigants, the state has underfunded education by $1.5 billion since 2010.
The litigants are giving other districts 30 days to join the suit, and former Governor Ronnie Musgrove is crisscrossing the state trying to encourage them. “School districts cannot live without this funding, and local districts are being forced to raise local taxes to try to make up for the money that is being held hostage in Jackson,” said Musgrove. “We hope to get as much money back as possible for every school district. We hope to make education a top priority in Mississippi again. We hope to create opportunity for everyone in Mississippi. The only way to do that is to legally force the state to fully fund education.”
Monday, September 8, 2014
Last year brought a spate of North Carolina cases involving charter schools claiming that local districts were denying them appropriate access to the districts' rainy day funds. The charters won and were able to immediately tap into funds that the districts had set aside for long term emergency. Apparently, the response of some districts was to reclassify funds to exempt them from the fund sharing statute implicated in prior cases. That reclassification of funds lead to another new case, Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy Charter School v. Cleveland County Board of Education, 2014 WL 4290557 (N.C. Ct. App. Sept. 2, 2014), in which the Thomas Jefferson charter school alleged that the school board "wrongfully moved approximately $4.9 million from the local current expense fund, which must be shared with the charter schools, to a 'special revenue fund,' which is not shared."
Friday, September 5, 2014
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state was failing in its constitutional duty to make ample provision for education. It gave the state until 2018 to fix the problem. Such a long time line did not portend well when it was issued, as lawmakers tend to drag their feet unless pushed on these issues. Due to the state's failure to make significant progress over the past two years, the plaintiffs asked the court to hold the state in contempt and the court is waking up to general realities. In a hearing before the court on Wednesday, several members of the court seemed prepared to hold the state in contempt if it does not act quickly to pass new funding legislation in its upcoming legislative session. One justice went so far as to suggest the court should go ahead and hold the state in contempt now, remarking of the state's failure to act over the past two years: "Why should we think that you're going to do something different?" Unfortunately, it has taken standoffs and this level of aggressiveness by plaintiffs and courts to spur reform in several other states in the past. For instance, in Arizona, the state was held in contempt for about a month with enormous fines each day before it acted to address inadequate funding for English Language Learners. Signally its seriousness through oral argument may be a good way of getting the state to act without formally escalating the problem.
More on the oral argument and case here.