Thursday, March 23, 2017
A new study by Chris Candelaria and Ken Shores adds another major finding in the debate over school funding. In their paper, Court-Ordered Finance Reforms in the Adequacy Era: Heterogeneous Causal Effects and Sensitivity, they find that school funding remedies have a significant impact on graduation rates in high poverty districts. In those districts, a ten-percent increase in per-pupil funding "causes a 5.06 percentage point increase in graduation rates." As I calculate it, that means that if a southeastern state spending about $7,000 per-pupil in a high poverty district bumped funding to $7,700, it would likely bump its graduation rate from 65% to 70%. In a high school with 1200 students, that means it would graduate 210 students each year rather than 195.
This finding comes on top of Kirabo Jackson and his colleagues' recent finding that a twenty percent increase in per pupil funding, if maintained over the course of students' education careers, results in low income students completing .9 more years of education. This increased learning wipes out two-thirds of the gap in outcomes between low- and middle-income students.
Not too shabby for a little extra money. Incredibly impressive when compared to what data tells us about vouchers and the average charter school.
These studies should give Congress serious pause when they look over Trump's proposed budget, which would leave funding for low-income students flat, save the $1 billion aimed at prompting school choice, charters, and vouchers.
These studies should also give the public heartburn in the 30 states that, in real dollar terms, continue to fund education at a lower level today than they did before the recession. As I detail here, many states issued cuts of 10 to 20 percent in education funding during the recession and have still yet to fully replace the funds. The above studies would strongly suggest these states are driving down student achievement and graduation rates; it will just take a few years for the data to bear it out.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
President Trump has released his blueprint for the budget. It includes a number of cuts and program eliminations across various sectors. He would not spare the Department of Education. Here is the USA Today's summary of the cuts:
Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program ($2.4 billion): The White House says the program is "poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact."
21st Century Community Learning Centers program ($1.2 billion): The formula grants to states support before- and after-school and summer programs. "The programs lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement," the budget says.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program ($732 million): This financial aid program, known as SEOG, help give up to $4,000 a year to college students based on financial need. The Trump administration says it's a "less well-targeted" program than Pell Grants.
Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program ($190 million): The grants are targeted toward students with disabilities or limited English proficiency.
Teacher Quality Partnership ($43 million): A teacher training and recruitment grant program.
Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property ($67 million): Obama also proposed the elimination of this program, which reimburses schools for lost tax revenue from tax-exempt federal properties in their districts.
International Education programs ($7 million): This line item funds a variety of exchange programs, migrant schools and special education services abroad.
My knowledge is thin on most of these programs, but the biggest cuts strike me as the most curious. Funding for before and after school programs may or may not be improving student achievement. That, however, should be beside the point if those programs provide a safe place and child care for needy students. Cutting this out only places more pressure on the child care issues that Ivanka Trump has been raising. Likewise, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant helps needy students pay for college. Trump may be correct that it is not as targeted as it could be, but this begs the question of how it might be better targeted, not whether the funding should be cut.
Finally, the Impact Aid Support seems like a particularly odd target. Those funds have a significant impact in communities that serve our military families. Those families, for a variety of reasons, do not pay the same taxes as others in those communities. No one has any qualms with giving our service members those benefits. The downside, however, is that the schools their children attend do not have the same tax base as other schools with fewer military members. To offset this oddity, the federal government makes a direct payment bumps to those schools. This cut is a hard one to figure out.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
The structure the Every Student Succeeds Act creates for supporting, monitoring, and improving public schools is, in the collective, incoherent. The Every Student Succeeds Act is the popular title of the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Every Student Succeeds Act, however, stands apart from its predecessors. All prior versions have been premised on improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged students by promoting equality in inputs, equality in outputs, or both. The Every Student Succeeds Act proceeds as though we can improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged students without equality in inputs or outputs. This would be quite a novel, if not incoherent, thesis.
In a lecture last week, I remarked that the more forgiving thesis I might ascribe to the Act is that if the federal government would get out of the way of states states would devise their own new theories by which to achieve equality or would simply achieve input and/or output equality of their own volition. Yesterday, Betsy DeVos confirmed my speculation was correct. At the annual legislative conference of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 68 big-city school system, DeVos remarked “When Washington gets out of your way, you should be able to unleash new and creative thinking to set children up for success.”
I knew it. Washington is the problem and the Every Student Succeeds Act has cured it. States did not really need the couple hundred billion dollars that the federal government gave to states during the recession to keep their education budgets from falling off a cliff and teachers being wholesale dismissed. It was really the federal government that made states cut education by 20 or so percent once they exhausted federal stimulus funds. It was really the federal government that forced some states to slash taxes rather than fund education. It was really the federal government that has insisted that over half of the states continue to fund education at levels below the pre-recession years, even though their tax revenues exceed pre-recession levels. It was really the federal government that insisted that states spend more money in schools that do not serve low-income students than in those that do.
If only President Obama had appointed Betsy Devos eight years ago, we could have avoided this mess.
Or maybe the flawed logic of the Every Student Succeeds Act and Betsy DeVos are just window dressing for the fact that many no longer believe equality is possible or a virtue worth pursuing. This is an idea that would likely cause many educators and families to revolt, just as they did in opposition to DeVos, which is why the window dressing is necessary.
For more on the federal role in education and the Every Student Succeeds Act, see here.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Yesterday, I remarked on how the Kansas Supreme Court has stood firm in insisting that the state properly fund education, offering a model for other state courts. An interesting possibility may arise soon in Wyoming. Wyoming has excellent precedent, but has largely flown under the radar in for the past decade. Increased funding struggles in recent years suggest that litigants may once again take to the courts. The Wyoming legislature was patting itself on the back for finding a supposed solution last week, but far more appears necessary. The Miami-Herald reports:
A compromise reached in the final hours of the legislative session Friday cleared the way for lawmakers to approve an education finance bill containing spending cuts but no taxes.
Fixing an education funding shortfall on track to top $380 million a year was one of Gov. Matt Mead's top hopes for the eight-week session. The bill, which would launch a potentially years-long process of addressing the shortfall, now heads to his desk.
The bill carries $34.5 million in education cuts. While not nearly enough to erase the shortfall before it sets in next year, the cuts accompany a plan to study and revamp education funding amid weak state revenue from coal, oil and natural gas extraction.
"It's not a solution. But I think it's another step," House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said in urging House approval of the bill. "There's going to be thousands of more steps."
The House voted 45-13 and the Senate 25-4 to approve the bill.
"We really, honestly, I think got our own way," Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, told fellow senators.
With Mead's approval, a special legislative committee and Mead appointees would get to work on the problem year-round.
The bill remained in limbo through most of the session's last day.
The House voted 51-9 Friday morning not to agree to Senate changes to the measure. Those changes included stripping a half-cent state sales tax increase and reallocation of $84 million in mineral tax revenue toward K-12 education.
Monday, March 6, 2017
Kansas Supreme Court Smacks Down Legislative Nonsense in School Funding, Offering Model for Others to Follow
Last week, the Kansas Supreme Court issued another opinion in its long running quest to ensure that the state complies with its constitutional duty to provide equal and adequate educational opportunities. This one may have offered the most poignant smack-downs of a state legislature in some time. The state brought the rebukes on itself by putting forward what would seem to be outrageous claims based on the facts. On the other hand, Texas got away with a similar tactic less than a year ago and it supreme court ran with it. The Kansas Supreme Court noted as much, but emphasized, in effect, that Kansas isn’t Texas and nothing has changed since the last several times it has found that the state constitution requires it to do its job in regard to education.
The court began with a broad overview of current achievement in the state, writing that as of 2015-2016:
- Approximately 15,000 of our state's African American students, or nearly one-half of their total student population, are not proficient in reading and math—subjects at the heart of an adequate education.
- Approximately 33,000 Hispanic students, or more than one-third of their student population, are not proficient in reading and math. When combined with the 15,000 underperforming African American students, the sum equates to approximately all the K-12 public school students in every school district in every county with an eastern boundary beginning west of Salina—more than one-half of the state's geographic area.
- More than one-third of our state's students who receive free and reduced lunches are not proficient in reading and math.
The evidence developed in the lower courts demonstrated that these achievement levels were “related to funding levels. Accordingly, we conclude the state's public education financing system, through its structure and implementation, is not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy.”
The most compelling explanations, however, were in the details. In the body of its opinion, the court explained:
every witness, including experts, who testified on the subject confirmed that the costs of educating Kansas students and the demands on Kansas education had only increased since 2007. The panel found, based on this testimony, that while the demands on schools increased—including the size of student populations—the available resources declined, creating a gap between demands and resources in Kansas public education.
But during that exact same period, the state was cutting basic aid to districts. The Kansas State Board of Education (SBE) recommended that the legislature fund its basic formula at $4,492 per pupil. Instead, the state funded it at $3780 per pupil. The state then commissioned two school funding studies, both of which recommended funding the formula “well above this $3,780 amount and similar to those of the 2010 Commission and the SBE.”
Because of the funding cuts, districts were forced to eliminate the very programs and services that experts showed would improve educational equality and adequacy, “such as longer school days, Saturday school, all-day kindergarten, before and after school programs, extracurricular activities such as speech and debate, band and orchestra, smaller class sizes, professional development, and the employment of qualified teachers.”
“The panel also found the 2009 budget cuts forced school districts statewide to cut 2,500 positions—including 1,567 for teachers. These reductions undoubtedly increased class sizes because they occurred when statewide full-time enrollment was increasing. Additionally, teacher salaries remained largely stagnant, while some had to be reduced.”
The most significant rebuke came in regard to the state’s claims that student achievement had increased due to state action. In other words, the state wanted credit rather than fault. The court recognized past improvements, but emphasized that “student achievement rose when funding increased after Montoy IV in 2006 but eventually fell when funding began to decrease in 2009.” The clear reversal in state policy regarding funding demostrated that
“money makes a difference” in public education. . . . [I]t cited Kansas cost studies, particularly the legislature's LPA study of 2006. That study concluded, with ‘99% confiden[ce],’ that the relationship between student performance and district spending was positive, i.e., that a 1% increase in student performance was associated with a .83% increase in spending. And the legislatively-created 2010 Commission concluded that “Kansas students have made great academic strides ... largely due to the infusion of school funding.”
Based on these finding, the court set this summer as the deadline for the state to come up a remedy.
One can only hope that other court recognize the Kansas Supreme Court as a judicial model for leading them out of the dark era of the past decade. As I detail here, state legislatures have been drastically cutting education and the vast majority of state supreme courts have been letting them. Some supreme courts have even reversed prior positions in support of equal and adequate funding. Things have gotten so bad that I argued that courts were doing long term damage not only to education but to their own institutional authority.
This new Kansas Supreme Court opinion does an excellent job of going well beyond social science debates to offer a wake-up call to its legislature and others. The court establishes, through concrete evidence, the direct links between Kansas's reduction in education funding and student outcomes. The link was so strong because the state had acted so abruptly and decisively.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Ed Build has released a new report that analyzes the fundamental differences between how local communities tax themselves to fund education. It asks whether "low-wealth districts—those with low-value property tax bases—[are] forced to tax themselves more heavily than high-wealth districts in order to raise enough funding for their schools" and, "if so, what can be done about it." The report finds that:
in the strictest sense, property taxation for education is usually regressive. In 11 of 18 states studied, overall education tax rates were found to be lower in school districts where property valuation per household was higher. (The reverse was found in just two states.)
But, it turns out, that’s not the whole story. While property taxes for education are regressive at the system level, things look quite different at the household level. In a plurality of states studied, overall school district tax rates were found to be higher in districts with greater median home values. When the investigation was narrowed to property taxes for education paid specifically by homeowners, the results were a mix of progressive, regressive, and neutral findings: residential property tax rates were not found to be consistently related to district affluence. And neither overall tax rates nor tax rates on residential property were found to be consistently related to local income levels.
It emerges that property taxes for education may be regressive overall, but not usually because they overburden low-income households or low-wealth homeowners. Instead, this problem seems to arise mostly from the taxation of non-residential property, like businesses, factories, and farms. It appears districts often fail to effectively leverage the non-residential property tax base for school funding, and this fact looms larger than any neutral or progressive taxation at the household level.
. . .
When districts do not take appropriate advantage of high-value tax bases, then that money must come from somewhere else—likely, from higher local taxes in districts whose smaller tax bases mean they will struggle to raise enough funding for their schools.
In this way, regressive local taxation for education undermines the fairness of the entire state’s education funding system.
This report is a must read for local policymakers and scholars of school funding. It reveals that conversations about inequitable and inadequate school funding may be missing the bigger picture. Fair school funding is not just about funding formulas and identifying student need. It is about tax policy. Apparently, our tax policies have built-in biases that we rarely stop to challenge.
While I had since relegated it to the corners of mind, the report reminds me of a casual conversation with two tax professors about South Carolina's educational adequacy litigation. In my ignorance, I had not anticipated any deep insights about the litigation, but they immediately explained that the challenge for in arriving at a remedy in the litigation was not agreeing on funding levels for disadvantaged schools and students. The real challenge was altering current tax structures in the state that the most powerful constituents would resist tooth and nail. They would resist not because they disagreed with the education agenda but because they wanted to retain the current biases in the tax code.
Get Ed Build's full report here.
Monday, February 6, 2017
Lotteries Then Pot: The Continuing Evolution of States' Attempts to Fund Education through Anything Other Than General Revenues
The Washington Supreme Court has hammered the state legislature hard in recent years over its failure to rationally fund public education. Most recently, it imposed daily fines on the state for its failure to come up with a plan to comply with the court's prior decisions declaring the financing system unconstitutional. The court also struck down the state's attempt to set up a new charter school system, again reminding it that the state constitution obligates to to fund its traditional public schools. The Seattle Times now reports that the state is looking to fill its education funding gap with taxes on marijuana. The Seattle Times offers this report:
It’s a question that Republican senators have asked during state budget battles from time to time: Why can’t Washington, flush with marijuana tax revenue far outpacing old projections, use that money to help solve the state’s school-funding crisis?
Well, it can. To a small extent it already does. And there is at least surface-level bipartisan agreement that maybe the state should look at pot money as a partial solution to the education-funding gap that the Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to fill.
But, Democrats are quick to point out, there’s not a big pile of marijuana tax money just sitting around — it’s already being spent in other ways.
Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, thinks it will cost $2.75 billion above current funding levels, over the next two-year budget period, for the state to fully fund the public schools.
Legislative Democrats would bump current levels by $1.6 billion.
Legislative Republicans won’t say what they think it will cost. So far, they won’t say when they’ll release a proposal, although they promise it will be soon.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, served on that task force, and at a news conference earlier this month was more strident on rededicating marijuana tax money than on when her party would present a full education funding plan.
“Marijuana revenue needs to go to education, I think it should be devoted,” Rivers said. “I think it’s absolutely appropriate to take the money, set it aside, and say this is only education.”
Using marijuana revenues seems far more human than past legislative schemes to use lottery revenues. It is likely far more lucrative as well. But the optics and the inference that the state lacks a serious commitment to education give me pause.
Get the full story here.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
New Jersey Supreme Court Denies Gov. Christie's Bid to Change Teachers' Rights by The Education Law Center
This from the Education Law Center:
The NJ Supreme Court issued an order yesterday denying Governor Christie's motion to reopen the landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation. ELC, counsel to the plaintiff school children, vigorously opposed the Governor's action.
In the September filing, Governor Christie asked the Court to modify prior Abbott rulings by giving the Commissioner of Education unlimited authority to over-ride terms of teacher collective bargaining agreements and the law requiring teacher layoffs by seniority. The Governor also asked the Court to "freeze" state aid at current levels under the funding formula - the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) which was upheld and enforced by the Court in the 2009 and 2011 Abbott XX and XXI - while the Executive and Legislature developed a new wholly undefined formula to be adopted at some indeterminate future date.
In denying the Governor's motion, the Court noted the challenges to collective bargaining and seniority in layoffs "have not been subject to prior litigation in the Abbott line of cases."
The Court, in its order, "declines to exercise original jurisdiction" to hear the motion "in the first instance," thus deciding not to consider the merits of the Governor's request.
"We are pleased the Court has turned down the Governor's request. Issues related to collective bargaining and teacher layoffs were never in the Abbott case, which has been singularly focused on ensuring adequate funding and resources for students in New Jersey's poorest schools," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and lead Abbott counsel.
Denying the Governor's request to freeze school funding means that the Court's directives in the Abbott XX (2009) and Abbott XXI (2011) rulings requiring the State to continue to use the SFRA formula to fund New Jersey's public schools remain in full force and effect.
"With this ruling, we anticipate the Governor will follow the Abbott rulings and SFRA statute by using the formula to determine state aid for school districts in the FY18 State Budget," Mr. Sciarra added. "We're prepared to work with the Governor and Legislature to ensure the budget includes a long overdue increase in state aid, targeted to districts most in need."
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
In his proposed 2017-18 budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for repeal of New York's Foundation Aid Formula, the 2007 law responding to the landmark case, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE).
The Formula was carefully designed to deliver funding for the essential resources all New York school children need to achieve the state's academic standards, including additional resources needed for students in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. The Formula was also designed to drive increases in state aid to high need schools across the state, addressing New York's longstanding disparities between high poverty, low wealth and low poverty, high wealth school districts.
In the 2003 CFE ruling, New York's highest court declared the state's method of funding schools violated New York City students' constitutional right to a "sound basic education." The Court of Appeals sharply criticized the funding system, calling it a "political process" that allocates funds to schools in a way that "does not bear a perceptible relation to the needs of" public school children.
In the wake of CFE, the Legislature enacted the Formula to move the state from funding schools based on available dollars and raw politics to year-to-year determinations based on student and school need. The Formula also allocated school aid based on district fiscal capacity to raise local revenue from property taxes. To accomplish this objective, the Formula provided for a four-year phase-in of increases in state aid, or $5.5 billion statewide, the vast majority targeted to the poorest urban and rural districts.
In 2009, the state froze and then subsequently cut Formula aid. Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has staunchly resisted increasing aid to move districts towards full Formula funding. The Formula remains underfunded by over $4 billion.
The result of the state's failure has fallen hard on students, especially those in high need schools. Many districts have reduced or eliminated teachers, support staff and other programs deemed essential in CFE for a constitutional education. Yet support for full Formula funding remains strong. Parents, teachers, board members and legislators have stood behind the Formula, demanding Governor Cuomo re-commit to a multi-year phase- in of full Formula aid.
The Governor's announcement that he wants to eliminate the Formula is a stunning reversal of his 2010 campaign position when he made clear the state's responsibility for full Formula funding. The Governor recognized the state "is supposed to equalize or come close to equalizing" school funding, declaring that "the state has yet to fully fund" CFE.
Governor Cuomo is following the playbook of Governors in Mississippi and Georgia, states where the existing funding formulas are, like New York, chronically and substantially underfunded. Rather than fully funding the Formula, the Governor wants to wipe it off the books, and with it the current $4 billion shortfall in state foundation aid. By dumping the Formula, the Governor is attempting to avoid accountability for meeting the needs of New York's school children, needs that the Governor, no matter how hard he tries, cannot pretend don't exist.
Even worse, repeal of the Formula would be a major step backwards. The Governor wants to turn the clock back to the days when school funding was decided by "three men in a room," a crass political process soundly rejected by the CFE rulings. We're confident that legislators will continue to stand behind the Formula and demand that it be fully funded to ensure the needs of school children remain prominent, paramount and fully effectuated in the annual state budget.
David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of Education Law Center. ELC advocates for fair and adequate school funding for New York school children.
Monday, January 30, 2017
The Sixth Edition of the School Funding Fairness Report is now available. The report is a joint effort of the Education Law Center and the Rutgers University School of Education, with Bruce Baker serving as lead author. To no surprise, the report "finds that public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity for success in school." It retains the same methodology of the past, analyzing "Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort and Coverage." The report also highlights a major trend that I emphasized in Averting Educational Crisis--the failure of state funding systems to rebound since the Recession. The report "shows almost no improvement since the end of the Great Recession in those states that do not provide additional funding to districts with high student poverty. There is also no change in the vast differences in levels of funding for K-12 education across the states, even after adjusting for cost."
Key findings include:
- Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,165 per pupil in New York, to a low of $5,838 in Idaho.
- Many states with low funding levels, such as California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, are also low “effort” states, that is, they invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems.
- Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, and Illinois, have “regressive” school funding. These states provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of need as measured by student poverty.
- Students in certain regions of the country face a “double disadvantage” because their states have low funding levels and do not increase funding for concentrated student poverty. These “flat” funding states include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest.
- Only a handful of states – Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey – have “progressive” school funding. These states have sufficiently high funding levels and significantly boost funding in their high poverty districts.
- States with unfair school funding perform poorly on key indicators of resources essential for educational opportunity. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably high.
This year's report also comes with a huge bonus for researchers. They can now download data files on local education agencies, state equity indicators, and basic state fiscal numbers. This is also probably great for Bruce Baker, so that the rest of the world can figure out answers to questions themselves. We really owe a great debt to group for doing this work and making it available. It is the exact type of fundamental analysis and data that I argued over a decade a ago the U.S. Department of Education should be doing as part of its monitoring of federally funded programs.
Monday, January 23, 2017
In 2012, Bruce Baker released a report that surveyed all the literature on the effects of school funding. It was the first singnificant survey of the literature since Greenwald, Hedges and Laine's study from the mid-1990s. Baker has now released a new update to his prior work. The report finds:
- On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes. The size of this effect is larger in some studies than in others, and, in some cases, additional funding appears to matter more for some students than for others. Clearly, there are other factors that may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes, such as how that money is spent. In other words, money must be spent wisely to yield benefits. But, on balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.
- Schooling resources that cost money, including smaller class sizes, additional supports, early childhood programs and more competitive teacher compensation (permitting schools and districts to recruit and retain a higher-quality teacher workforce), are positively associated with student outcomes. Again, in some cases, those effects are larger than in others, and there is also variation by student population and other contextual variables. On the whole, however, the things that cost money benefit students, and there is scarce evidence that there are more cost-effective alternatives.
- Sustained improvements to the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts can lead to improvements in the level and distribution of student outcomes. While money alone may not be the answer, more equitable and adequate allocation of financial inputs to schooling provide a necessary underlying condition for improving the equity and adequacy of outcomes. The available evidence suggests that appropriate combinations of more adequate funding with more accountability for its use may be most promising.
He boils the research on those points down to this:
While there may in fact be better and more efficient ways to leverage the education dollar toward improved student outcomes, we do know the following:
• Many of the ways in which schools currently spend money do improve student outcomes.
• When schools have more money, they have greater opportunity to spend productively. When they don’t, they can’t.
• Arguments that across-the-board budget cuts will not hurt outcomes are completely unfounded.
In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and a more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes. Policymakers would be well-advised to rely on high-quality research to guide the critical choices they make regarding school finance.
Get the full report here.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
New Study Finds That Money Has a Large Effect on Student Achievement, But It Is Not News--It Is a Sad Reminder of What We Must Do
The New York Times took note of a new school funding study Monday, titling the article It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education. The study by Julien Lafortune, Jesse Rothstein, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach found that school funding "reforms lead to sharp, immediate, and sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts. Using representative samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we find that reforms cause increases in the achievement of students in these districts, phasing in gradually over the years following the reform. The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large." To put it in perspective, they write "After desegregation, school finance reform is perhaps the most important education policy change in the United States in the last half century."
Our results thus show that money can and does matter in education . . . School finance reforms are blunt tools, and some critics have argued that they will be offset by changes in district or voter choices over tax rates or that funds will be spent so inefficiently as to be wasted. Our results do not support these claims. Courts and legislatures can evidently force improvements in school quality for students in low-income districts. But there is an important caveat to this conclusion. As we discuss in Section VI, the average low-income student does not live in a particularly low-income district, so is not well targeted by a transfer of resources to the latter. Thus, we find that finance reforms reduced achievement gaps between high- and low-income school districts but did not have detectable effects on resource or achievement gaps between high- and low-income (or white and black) students. Attacking these gaps via school finance policies would require changing the allocation of resources within school districts, something that was not attempted by the reforms that we study.
To be clear, I will be citing and relying on this study in my own work. It is a good one, but those who have studied school funding for years will be a little miffed with the New York Times' framing of the study. This new study, while high in quality and nuance, does not reveal something particular new. It is incorrect to suggest the study's findings are a surprise-- that it "turn[s] out" that money improves education. This has been the consensus of social science for decades. See my discussion of the literature here.
The problem is that the issue has been so poorly reported and debated that the study seems like news to most. Then again, maybe we have just conveniently ignored it. Either way, education budgets have been decimated over the past decade with little more than a whimper from most national and local media. During the Recession, every state cut education. Most cut it with a hatchet, with cuts of twenty percent or more in several states and over ten percent in the largest chunk. Equally disturbing is that most states have still yet to fully replace those funds. The most recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that, in real dollar terms, thirty states are still funding education below their pre-recession level.
Things have been so bad that people simply stopped pursuing careers in education, so much so that when states finally began rehiring teachers last year, there were literally no applicants to fill those jobs. School districts actually began using billboards on the highway to beg people to apply. California told prospective applicants they jump right into the classroom if they would just enroll in a teacher preparation program--they could finish their degrees on the weekends. It was only this tailing effect of school funding cuts that finally caught widespread attention.
The overall trend calls for intervention and a new approach by legislatures and courts. For more, see Averting Educational Crisis: Funding Cuts, Teacher Shortages, and the Dwindling Commitment to Public Education.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
With the selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, Donald Trump has made good on his promise to do everything possible to undermine and weaken America's public education system. President-Elect Trump made few promises about his education agenda during the campaign, but what he did promise - $20 billion in federal funding taken from public schools to be used for private and religious school vouchers - foreshadowed his pick of a conservative billionaire who has donated considerable sums to promote charters and vouchers at the expense of the public schools and the children they serve. Ms. DeVos's track record in Michigan provides a clear picture of her priorities as Education Secretary. She and her husband have funded campaigns to increase the number of charter schools, including for-profit charters, especially in high poverty communities such as Detroit and Flint. They have funded this effort despite the fact that Michigan's expansive charter sector is among the least accountable and worst performing in the nation. Ms. DeVos also bankrolled an attempt to bring vouchers to Michigan, but those efforts were stymied due to a constitutional amendment passed in 1971 prohibiting public funding for private schools.
The bottom line is this: the Trump Administration will do nothing to support public education across the country. Instead, federal funding will be used as a carrot, or perhaps a stick, to force states to accelerate the unregulated growth of charters and expand existing voucher programs or enact new ones to facilitate the flow of tax dollars from public schools to private and religious schools and other private providers.
What we can also expect is a wholesale retreat from federal enforcement of civil rights protections for vulnerable student populations, from LGBTQ to ELL students. In short, it is not an exaggeration to call the Trump-DeVos education agenda an all-out assault on our public schools, the centerpiece of which is the diversion of billions of dollars from public education to private spending.
What can the vast majority of Americans who care about public education do?
This is a good time to remind ourselves that public education has always been - and will continue to be - the obligation of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This obligation is embedded in the guarantee of a public education in state constitutions. It is the states, not the federal government, that control access, quality, governance, student rights and the bulk of funding for their public education systems.
A storm of policy and public relations to promote educational inequity and disparity across the nation will emanate from Washington under the new administration. But if we turn our full attention to the states, we can - and must - energize existing coalitions and campaigns of parents, educators, students and community organizations to protect and defend the public schools. Let's start now to erect state and local firewalls to safeguard our schools.
Here are a few ways we can begin:
1) We must press our congressional delegations to oppose the Trump anti-public education agenda, starting with the DeVos appointment but continuing to block other proposals, from dismantling the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to diverting Title I funding for vouchers under the guise of "portability."
2) If a state constitution prohibits the use of public funding for other purposes, it's time for advocates and activists to get ready to stand behind it. Some state constitutions contain such prohibitions or have been interpreted by courts to do so. If state law is unclear, it's time to propose a law to "lockbox" and protect public school funding. Most states already underfund their public schools, and what our children don't need is the federal government trying to divert any amount of that funding to private and religious schools.
3) This is the right time to start state-level conversations about rejecting offers of federal funding that come at the price of defunding public education and causing even more inequity and disparity of opportunity for students, especially low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners and students of color.
4) Legislative campaigns for charter school reform must be reinvigorated. In many states, an overhaul of charter school laws is long overdue to ensure full accountability with regard to student access and school performance, as well as the use of public funds. Segregation of students based on disability, the need to learn English, academic risk or other factors must be fought in statehouses, including moratoriums to prevent funding loss and student segregation resulting from uncontrolled charter growth.
5) We must review state-level student and civil rights protections and develop an agenda to strengthen that critical framework. This must include enhancing anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws; school discipline reform; open admissions for homeless children, youth in foster care, and un-documented students; and other measures to safeguard the rights of students.
On the one hand, a Trump Administration offers the opportunity to join the many advocates laboring to ensure equal and quality education for all children in their states, often in extremely challenging political environments. On the other hand, Trump's election is a wake-up call about a fundamental, enduring lesson: education equity advances or regresses primarily through state action on funding, essential resources and programs, and students rights. Actions taken by the federal government, even those intended to promote equity in the states, can only go so far. And sometimes those actions impede progress.
Let's not get distracted by "inside the beltway" prognostications or rarefied debates over how bad things may be. Those of us working in the states know what's coming. It's time to renew and redouble efforts to protect public education in our states and communities. Millions of children are depending on us.
David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of the Education Law Center, where he serves as lead counsel in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation and directs ELC's advocacy on behalf of the nation's public school children.
Friday, November 4, 2016
In September, Superior Court Justice Brian Tucker granted most of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, in City of Dover v. State, holding that the state's statutory cap on State school funds sent to cities and towns denied Dover adequacy funds to which it was entitled under the State constitution and granting a permanent injunction.
The court noted in its ruling that the State did not oppose plaintiffs' motion for declaratory and injunctive relief, but instead the Senate President and Speaker of the House intervened to oppose the motion. The intervenors argued that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case. The court did not agree, explaining that because the Dover plaintiffs argued that the loss of funding impaired their ability to furnish a constitutionally adequate education they had standing to challenge the cap.
The court observed that New Hampshire school children have a constitutional right to an adequate education. Citing New Hampshire Supreme Court precedent in Claremont Sch. Dist. v. Governor (1993), the court explained that the State constitution "imposes a duty on the State to provide a constitutionally adequate education to every child in the public schools in New Hampshire and to guarantee adequate funding." The court also stated that the State Legislature must define a constitutionally adequate education and pay for it, citing Londonderry Sch. Dist. v. State (2006).
A New Hampshire statute provides a definition of a constitutionally adequate education and identifies the annual per pupil funding amount based on the cost of providing that education, including upward adjustments for students with various needs. Despite New Hampshire's cost-based calculation, beginning in fiscal year 2010, State law directed the Department of Education to limit State aid distributions by applying a 15% cap on any increase over the 2009 amount. Dover received less than the cost-based calculation in 2010, and subsequent years.
The next question for the court was under what standard to review the challenged statutory language. Because education is a fundamental right in New Hampshire (Claremont 1997), the court used strict scrutiny to determine whether the cap violated the constitution. When governmental action impinges on a fundamental right, strict judicial scrutiny applies, the court noted. The court did not find the cap "necessary to achieve a compelling interest" and "narrowly tailored" to do so, as strict scrutiny requires.
The court declared the cap unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction against its use. Plaintiffs will recover the funding lost due to the cap from September 15, 2015, and thereafter. This decision also benefits a handful of other school districts and towns that were similarly shortchanged.
"The court in this case correctly upheld the essential right of students to an education," said David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. "This ruling benefits New Hampshire students and the State itself because better educated students today means a stronger economy and civic discourse in the future."
Education Law Center Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Kandice Sumner, a public school teacher, breaks down racial and socio-economic inequality in our public schools in this straightforward and experiential-based Ted Talk. The webpage offers this introductory summary:
Why should a good education be exclusive to rich kids? Schools in low-income neighborhoods across the US, specifically in communities of color, lack resources that are standard at wealthier schools — things like musical instruments, new books, healthy school lunches and soccer fields — and this has a real impact on the potential of students. Kandice Sumner sees the disparity every day in her classroom in Boston. In this inspiring talk, she asks us to face facts — and change them.
One of the more interesting themes of her talk is the argument that our education system has never been designed to offer equal or quality opportunities to communities of color and that when it does occur it is random or potentially a result of private philanthropy rather than the education system itself. In one snippet of the conversation, she offered:
If we really, as a country, believe that education is the "great equalizer," then it should be just that: equal and equitable. Until then, there's no democracy in our democratic education.
On a mezzo level: historically speaking, the education of the black and brown child has always depended on the philanthropy of others. And unfortunately, today it still does. If your son or daughter or niece or nephew or neighbor or little Timmy down the street goes to an affluent school, challenge your school committee to adopt an impoverished school or an impoverished classroom. Close the divide by engaging in communication and relationships that matter. When resources are shared, they're not divided; they're multiplied.
You can watch her talk here.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Last year, advocates filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts that attempted to use the state education clause and school finance precedent to declare a cap on charter schools unconstitutional. The theory was that many current schools were so bad that they deprived students of a quality education. Since quality charter schools were down the road and could be expanded, the remedy was to grant students the access to more charter schools, which would require lifting the statutory cap on them. The theory, in many respects, resembled the strategy of the constitutional challenge to teacher tenure in California.
Last week, the trial court in Massachusetts dismissed the charter case. The court reasoned that the education clause does not create an individual right to education and, thus, does not create an individual right to demand access to other school opportunities and facilities. Rather, the education clause creates a duty on the part of the state to create a constitutionally adequate education system. Exactly how it does that is a matter of legislative policy and discretion, to which courts should defer. Plaintiffs' attempt to have the court insert their legislative preferences for those of the state is misguided.
I would generally agree with this basic rationale and certainly agree that plaintiffs' claims were a misguided use of the education clause. Their claim was really policy advocacy masquerading and constitutional analysis. With that said, I would caution the need for a little more nuance in dismissing such cases.
First, as I outline here, the notion of an education duty with no corresponding education right is highly problematic. If the state has a duty, it should be to someone or some group. While the Massachusetts trial court is correct that this does not mean that each individual student can demand individualized education, the constitution should require that the state create policies that ensure that the educational needs of individual students and students as a whole are met. If a policy is consistently denying students education, they should be able to challenge it and receive some sort of remedy. The duty-right distinction in other cases has been used as subterfuge to release the state from doing anything. Since there is no right, court can reason there is no basis for compelling the state to undertake its duty. The idea that this court might be adding support for that argument is worrying.
Second, the problem is particularly acute in school discipline and school finance cases. In discipline cases, some courts have used the duty-right distinction to flatly reject plaintiffs attempts to rely on their state's education clause to challenge suspension and expulsion. As a result, states can operate discipline systems that I argue here and here are entirely inconsistent with their duty to deliver equal and adequate education opportunities. In addition, in the traditional school finance case, there are numerous examples of states simply refusing to implement the remedies that courts have ordered. South Carolina, Kansas, and Washington immediately come to mind as examples in the past year. James Ryan and I have separately argued that when the state refuses to carry out its duty to implement a remedy to constitutional violations, it is within courts' power and responsibility to grant students immediate relief. This might be in the form of the right to exit their current public school and enroll in another public school. In other words, it should be beyond the state's discretion to force a student to remain in a school that the state refuses to bring up to constitutional standards. To be clear, however, this is not to say that caps on charters or student assignment statutes are unconstitutional or that students or their attorneys have the right to dictate where they should go to school. The point is simply that if the conditions in a particular school are unconstitutional, the state owes the students a remedy. If states, after the opportunity to do so, refuse to implement a remedy, courts can and should exercise injunctive relief on behalf of students.
For those less interested in doctrinal nuances, the trial court holding got it right: the cap on charter schools does not present a constitutional problem. Nonetheless, the initial lawsuit was enough to help get the issue of eliminating the cap on the ballot this November. So voters will get the final say. Recent polls indicate voters are against lifting the cap.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
My forthcoming article Abandoning the Federal Role in Education: The Every Student Succeeds Act, California Law Review (2017), is available on ssrn. I offer this summary in the abstract:
Congress recently passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), redefining the role of the federal government in education. The ESSA attempted to appease popular sentiment against the No Child Left Behind Act’s (NCLB) overreliance on standardized testing and punitive sanctions. But in overturning those aspects of NCLB, Congress failed to devise a system that was any better. Congress simply stripped the federal government of regulatory power and vastly expanded state discretion. For the first time in fifty years, the federal government now lacks the ability to prompt improvements in student achievement or to demand equal resources for low-income students. Thus, the ESSA rests on a bold premise: states will abandon their historical tendencies by voluntarily providing low-income students with equal educational opportunities.
Although the ESSA remains committed to equality on its face, it does the opposite in practice. First, the ESSA affords states wide latitude on student performance, accountability, and school reform. Wide state discretion opens the door to fifty disparate state systems, none of which guarantee equality. Second, the ESSA directly weakens two existing equity standards and leaves untouched a loophole that exempts eighty percent of school expenditures from equity analysis. Third, the ESSA leaves federal funding flat, eliminating the possibility that additional resources will offset the inequalities that the foregoing provisions permit. These changes to federal education law are so out of character that they beg the question of why the federal government is even involved in education at all.
Although Congress is unlikely to repeal the ESSA just months after passing it, it is set to expire by its own terms after four years. This Article proposes that Congress cure the ESSA’s flaws by increasing the federal investment in education to: 1) create the leverage needed for states to accept federal prohibitions on unequal funding practices; and 2) meet the outstanding needs of low-income students.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Last fall, teacher shortages swept states across the nation and caught the attention of major media outlets. Linda Darling-Hammond, Leib Sutcher, and Desiree Carver-Thomas's new essay in Huffington Post reminds us that the shortages are far from over. This fall is bringing a spate of stories similar to last year. As they write:
After years of layoffs during the fiscal recession, an upturn in the economy has allowed districts to begin hiring again. The problem is that many districts cannot find qualified teachers to fill the new positions. . . .
Teacher shortages were the topic of a recent gubernatorial debate in Indiana, with the Democratic challenger blaming the policies of the former governor for current shortages, while his Republican opponent pointed to a national crisis as a source of Indiana’s woes. With more than 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, reporting severe shortages in special education, math, and science, and states reporting the hiring of substitutes and individuals without credentials by the thousands, a national shortage seems plausible. Last spring, Indiana Governor Pence (now a vice-presidential candidate) signed into law a major scholarship bill subsidizing the preparation of prospective teachers in an effort to boost supply.
Two weeks ago, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) released a report on teacher supply and demand that examines the data behind these shortages. We set out to understand the sources of these difficulties and what might be done to resolve them.
They also offer a set of solutions:
- Creating competitive, equitable compensation packages that allow teachers to make a reasonable living across all kinds of communities.
- Enhancing the supply of qualified teachers for high-need fields and locations through targeted training subsidies and high-retention pathways.
- Improving teacher retention, especially in hard-to-staff schools, through improved mentoring, induction, working conditions, and career development.
- Developing a national teacher supply market that can facilitate getting and keeping teachers in the places they are needed over the course of their careers.
To my relief, these solutions are very similar to those I pose in Taking Teacher Quality Seriously. The problem, I point out, is that past reforms have been premised on silver bullet solutions. Courts, moreover, have often encouraged this type of thinking. The needs of our students, teachers, and their learning environments are too complex for singular solutions.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Wallet Hub recently ranked the best and worst states to be a teacher. The states with the lowest cost adjusted salaries are:
- Hawaii — $34,063
- South Dakota — $41,000
- Maine — $43,792
- West Virginia — $44,337
- Arizona — $46,029
Business Insider pointed out that "the two lowest-paying states happen to be on opposite ends of the cost-of-living spectrum: While Hawaii is notoriously expensive, South Dakota often ranks as one of the cheaper places to live in America."
It is also worth filtering these states through the lens of school finance litigation. New Jersey ranks as the best place to teach and, incidentally, has had the most effective school finance litigation in the nation. Illinois and Virginia, however, rank as the 3rd and 6th best states and yet have had some of the most miserable school finance results, with courts never acting to enforce their constitutions in any respect. The same could be said of Pennsylvania, which ranked 12.
At the bottom of the ranking is a more consistent list of states that have not experienced wins in school finance litigation or where courts have recently refused to enforce earlier decisions. Looking at the bottom and top of the list together, one might posit that the presence of school finance litigation and victories alone do not lead to good teaching environments, but the absence of litigation victories make poor environments more likely. Running that complicated analysis is beyond the scope of this short essay, but another more likely possibility is that most courts have simply mismanaged the issue of teachers in the context of school finance litigation. Thus, winning or loosing a school finance case has relatively little effect on the issues that matter the most in teaching.
In Taking Teacher Quality Seriously, I argue:
Although access to quality teachers is one of the most important aspects of a quality education, explicit concern with teacher quality too often has been conspicuously absent from past [court decisions] over the right to education. Instead, past [court decisions have] focused more on the broader question of funding. Though that litigation has narrowed gross funding gaps between schools in many states, it has not been enough to change what matters most: access to quality teachers.
This Article proposes that courts ensure access to quality teaching rather than the more amorphous right to adequate educational opportunities. The recent constitutional challenge to tenure suggests a theoretical step in this direction, but the focus on teacher tenure alone is misplaced. Eliminating tenure, without addressing more important fundamental challenges for the teaching profession, may just make matters worse. Thus, this Article argues for a broader intervention strategy that focuses on whether states equally distribute existing quality teachers and whether states take the various steps necessary to ensure the supply of quality teachers.
A more detailed discussion of the key issues involved in improving teaching quality is available here.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
New York Trial Court Dismisses Charges That State Underfunded Small City Schools to the Tune of $1.1 Billion
On Monday, a New York trial court ruled in favor of the state in what has been called the Small Cities School Funding litigation. The plaintiffs’ claim centered on a couple of key facts. First, New York’s highest court previously held that the state was obligated to provide students with a sound basic education and that adequate funding was part of that duty. Thus, the court directed the state to reform its funding system and devise a system reasonably calculated to achieve that end.
Second, one of the ways of doing so was to engage in fact based analysis of the cost of meeting student need. The method the state settled on was a model schools approach that looked at what the most economically efficient and successful schools were spending on education. From this, the state could identify a base cost for education and then apply additional weights to account for variances in local costs and demographics. Third, in in 2007-08, the state adopted a budget based on this method. Fourth, in 2009, the state froze the budget and enacted new cuts. Fifth, since then, glaring deficiencies in educational quality have risen in the district.
The premise behind plaintiffs’ theory, as I see it, is clear. If the 2007-08 budget was adequate, subsequent reductions necessarily raise the possibility of a constitutional violation. If the 2007-08 budget only met the most minimal level of adequacy, a reduction would be a clear constitutional violation. If the 2007-08 budget exceeded minimal adequacy, a reduction, depending on its size, might also violate the constitution. According to plaintiffs’, the reduction in the eight plaintiff districts amounted to 1.1 billion over five years. At that size, it would seem altogether likely that the funding had dipped below adequate. Plaintiffs', of course, introduced weeks of evidence to demonstrate this point at the local level. In particular, they sought to show low outcomes, glaring deficiencies in the essential resources previously outlined by higher courts, and a lack of funding caused both the input and output deficiencies.
The trial court decision, however, frames plaintiffs’ claims differently, indicating that plaintiffs’ position was that the state is prohibited from reducing its budget once it is enacted. I suppose one could state it that way, but this ignores the context in which plaintiffs’ claims arose. The issue was not simply whether the state could reduce or freeze its budget but whether a budget that comes in well under the state’s own estimation of a rational and adequate budget is unconstitutional. In other words, can the state fund education at level that it, in effect, has admitted is below adequacy. Moreover, implicit admissions aside, plaintiffs sought to affirmatively show that educational inputs and outputs were producing a constitutional violations (regardless of what budget the state did or did not adopt in 2007 and beyond).
Another way of viewing the case is through burdens of proof. Generally speaking, the burden of proof is on plaintiffs to demonstrate a constitutional violation. This case, however, offers an excellent example of when the burden of proof might more appropriately rest on the state. As I detail elsewhere, school finance violations appear to have run rampant during and after the recession. Part of the problem is that states believed or knew they could get away with it. They could under-fund education for years and, worse case scenario, plaintiffs would be tasked with a number of difficult evidentiary burdens that would take even more years to sort out. Even when plaintiffs establish their case, courts have not forced states to retroactively fill budget gaps that they create. It is enough to fix them moving forward.
As a result, state legislatures may have little incentive to actually comply with constitutional obligation in regard to education. In my article Averting Educational Crisis, I argue that, among other things, courts should begin adopting bright line prospective rules and obligations so that states clearly know what actions they cannot take. This would also justify courts stepping in sooner and more clearly when states default on their obligations. I also argue that “courts must prompt states to improve the structure of their education decision-making process and planning.” One of those key processes is an empirically informed basis for school budgets. A model schools approach, as in the Smalls Schools litigation, is a good example. The key, however, is that when the state acts contrary to its own processes and knowledge about funding, that action should be prima facie evidence of a constitutional violation. Here, the trial court treated it as functionally irrelevant.