Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Effect of School Finance Decisions on Overall State Spending and Taxes

Zachary Liscow has posted an incredibly informative and complex analysis of the interplay between school finance litigation victories and legislative action.  While analysis in this general area is not new, his approach is much deeper.  Liscow attempts to measure not just whether school finance decisions affect per pupil expenditures, but how they affect tax policy, the differential burdens of that tax policy, and the redistribution of governmental resources.  These inquiries are really aimed at identifying macro-level trends, whereby school finance litigation potentially produces a redistribution of resources or, more bluntly, an overall reduction in inequality.  Do legislatures increases taxes on the wealthy while at the same time driving more state resources to the needy through schools?

In his abstract, he writes:

I find that the court orders’ distributional impacts do stick. The education spending is financed by tax increases that do not target the largest beneficiaries of the increased education spending, the poor and those with children. Thus, since the main beneficiaries of the school spending do not pay a disproportionate share of the costs, advocates for school finance reform are effective at transferring resources to poor families. The results suggest that welfare analysis of these legal rules should take into account not only efficiency but also distribution, in a departure from traditional economic analysis of legal rules.

In his more nuanced discussion later, he indicates that states do not typically redistribute existing resources in other areas toward education, they just raise taxes.  Those tax increases are pretty evenly felt across all households.  He conclude with the following:

This paper’s results are difficult to square with this underlying political economy assumption that that legislatures, even in the long-run, optimize the distribution of taxes and spending. This paper presents evidence of “zombie legislatures”: courts dramatically change the distribution of spending, and the legislature does nothing to offset those acts. Instead, the legislatures drift. Determining how much legislatures optimally should respond is beyond the scope of this paper, but the fact that there is no evidence of any offset at all suggests at least the possibility that a different background assumption about whether legislatures achieve the socially optimal distribution of taxes and spending may be appropriate. Of course, the paper says little about whether taxes and spending redistribute too much or too little and thus little about what that appropriate assumption should be. An important subject of future work is determining the impact of legislative drift on deviations from the optimal distribution of taxes and spending. And, more generally, the implications for policy design without a background assumption of an optimal distribution of taxes and spending are an important subject for future work.

Get the full paper here.

October 12, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Makes Momentous Leap Forward for School Funding: Does It Also Signal a New Trend?

On three prior occasions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been asked to consider the possibility that school funding and other inequities in the state violate the state constitutional provision that the General Assembly "provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”  Each time the Supreme Court has said no.  The net result for students is one of the most arcane school funding systems in the nation.  For a long time, the state did not even have a school funding formula, instead funding schools randomly, inequitably, and inadequately.

Yesterday, in William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania, the court entered a new era and took the position of most other state supreme courts--that it had the authority and duty to determine whether "the General Assembly imposes a classification whereunder distribution of state funds results in widespread deprivations in economically disadvantaged districts of the resources necessary to attain a constitutionally adequate education."  It added: "We cannot avoid our responsibility to monitor the General Assembly’s efforts in service of its mandate and to measure those effects against the constitutional imperative, ensuring that non-constitutional considerations never prevail over that mandate."

As momentous as this step is for the children of Pennsylvania, the logic is over 200 years old.  The Pennsylvania constitution sets out a specific legislative duty in education.  That basic fact implicates the courts as well.  

It is settled beyond peradventure that constitutional promises must be kept. Since Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), it has been well-established that the separation of powers in our tripartite system of government typically depends upon judicial review to check acts or omissions by the other branches in derogation of constitutional requirements. That same separation sometimes demands that courts leave matters exclusively to the political branches. Nonetheless, “[t]he idea that any legislature . . . can conclusively determine for the people and for the courts that what it enacts in the form of law, or what it authorizes its agents to do, is consistent with the fundamental law, is in opposition to the theory of our institutions.” Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466, 527 (1898). Thus, we must be skeptical of calls to abstain from a given constitutional dispute. We hold that this is not a case that requires such abstention.

The decision also serves as an important counterpoint to recent trends among the courts.  As I detail in Averting Educational Crises, the Great Recession may have motivated several state supreme courts to give legislatures a pass for the massive education cuts they have imposed over the past decade.  There were no direct reversal of prior precedent but a seeming unwillingness to enforce it.  This new decision in Pennsylvania, particularly given the negative precedent in the state, may be reason to hope that the troublesome trend of the past decade is nearing a trend.  For now, it is too early to project.  Regardless, as I emphasize in the article, the ebb and flow of constitutional enforcement is a dangerous game for the judiciary to play--one that will not serve education or the general institutional authority of the courts well in the long run.  As I argue here, courts and constitutional enforcement in education are best served by prompting state legislatures to plan for educational crisis--because they will necessarily occur--not by giving states a pass when they do occur.

September 29, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Court Rejects Plaintiffs' Bid to Hold Local County Accountable for Its Role in Inadequate and Unequal Education

The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint in Silver v. Halifax County Board of Commissioners.  The case involved a claim that the Board's maintenance and operation of three distinct school districts within the county violated students' right to a sound basic education under the state constitution.  The claim focused on the fact that the districts were racially identifiable, unequally funded, and qualitative disparate.  Moreover, these facts were attributable to local, not state level, decisions.  

Plaintiffs argue that as delegates of the state, the local authorities are obligated to provide a constitutionally appropriate education.  To the extent their actions deprive plaintiffs of that education, plaintiffs are entitled to relief.  The Court of Appeals read precedent far more narrowly, reasoning that prior state supreme court decisions had only directed the state to comply with the constitution.  Thus, if plaintiffs have a gripe with the education in Halifax, they should take it up with the state: "the correct avenue for addressing plaintiffs’ concerns in the present case would appear to be through the ongoing litigation in Leandro I and Leandro II [the longstanding school adequacy suit against the state]."

The court, however, seemingly missed two distinctions.  The first is causation. While the harms that plaintiffs in Silver suffer may be the same as the harm in Leandro--inadequate education--plaintiffs allege a different cause.  To say plaintiffs must nonetheless sue the state is akin to saying that a victim of a car accident cannot sue the driver of the car that hit him because a manufacturing defect may have also existed and superceded the negligence of the driver.  There may very well be a superceding defect, but that possibility does not preclude the negligence suit as a prima facie matter.  Rather, the case must be litigated to determine the actual causes of the harms.

Second, the court assumes that prior case law placing the constitutional duty on the state means that the duty exclusively rest there.  As the dissent in Silver points out, however, those prior decisions did not raise the question of local duties.  Thus, there is no reason to infer those prior cases exclude a local duty.  Moreover, as I detail in an article on access to middle income peers, some constitutional duties logically flow to local districts.  Certain decisions, such as student assignment, are made at the local level and would be impracticable at the state level.  The problem is not with state policy, but local implementation.  The state may very well be responsible for those local failures.  Often it is, but that does not mean this is always the case.

School discipline makes this point even clearer.  The state has a constitutional duty to deliver education to students, but it is often the local principal or district that makes the decision to take that education away.  Taken to its extreme, the opinion in Silver might suggest that those students should sue the state rather than their district.  The reams of lawsuits against local districts reveal they are appropriate defendants.

 

September 25, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bigger Pies, Better Resource Allocation, or Information?  Three Futures for Education Rights Litigation By Chris Elmendorf & Darien Shanske

Education is special in the eyes of the law. State constitutions rarely require the government to spend money on anything, let alone to spend it well. Yet virtually every state constitution provides for a system of free public schools, and many courts have treated state governments as having a legally enforceable duty of care with respect to education.

But what exactly does this duty of care entail? One might expect this question to be reasonably well settled, as public-interest lawyers have been litigating education rights cases since the early 1970s. It is not. Two competing visions of the duty of care are playing out today in cases across the country. One holds that the state’s primary responsibility is to provide an ample fiscal “pie” for local school districts. Funding arrangements must ensure that all districts can afford to pay for decent facilities and programs. This vision motivates many of the claims that were filed in response to school-funding cutbacks during the Great Recession. The other vision holds that the state’s primary duty is to allocate efficiently whatever funds it appropriates for education. Informed by conservative critiques of public-sector bloat and interest-group politics, this vision calls on courts to redirect wasteful spending and unfetter local school administrators, but without touching the “political” question of how much to spend. The better-allocation vision undergirds a recent and exhaustively detailed trial court ruling in Connecticut, as well as challenges to teacher-tenure and seniority rules now pending in Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey.

Conservative opponents of bigger-pie litigation have long argued that the empirical evidence of the effect of school spending on student outcomes is too shaky to warrant judicial intervention. Liberal critics of the new teacher-tenure lawsuits have started making precisely analogous arguments in better-allocation cases, with no apparent sense of irony. But no one has asked whether states themselves might bear constitutional responsibility for the lack of reliable information about likely effects of plaintiff-sought reforms.

In a forthcoming law review article, we pose and answer this question, developing a new, information-centric vision for education rights litigation. Under our account, the states’ primary responsibility today is to structure their educational systems so that researchers and policymakers can figure out which interventions or reforms would actually improve the constitutional performance of the school system. Courts uniformly agree that the constitutional function of public schools is to prepare children for a lifetime of productive participation in economic, political, and civic life. But researchers know very little about the effects of educational reforms on adult outcomes—and the states bear much of the blame for this.   

As our article explains, states exercise enormous control over the production of knowledge about education, especially about long-run effects. This control is wielded through the architecture of administrative data systems; through the rules for assigning students, programs, and funding to schools; through the manner in which educational reforms are implemented; and through the terms on which the state provides access to administrative data.

States already possess constitutionally urgent information about the outcomes that schoolchildren realize as adults. This information is scattered across tax, voting, health, welfare, and criminal justice agencies. But, for the most part, state record-keeping systems have not been designed to enable linkage of educational and other records—and record-linkage is necessary to understand the long-run impact of educational reforms. Some states have actually banned the use of critical administrative datasets for research purposes. Likewise, in rolling out educational reforms, states rarely consider whether the rollout will enable credible tests of the reform’s effects. (Typically this requires well-defined “treatment” and “control” groups, which are similar to one another on average.)

Judicial recognition of a state duty of care with respect to the production of knowledge about education wouldn’t turn children into lab rats. States would still have to protect student records from privacy-compromising disclosures, and state officials, not researchers, would continue to set priorities.

But states would no longer be free to ignore how their own decisions affect what can be learned about the long-run effects of the state’s educational policies and programs. At a minimum, states would have to issue and periodically update a plan that identifies barriers to learning about how the state’s educational objectives can be achieved, and that explains what the state intends to do about it. Arbitrary barriers, such as flat prohibitions on the linkage of educational and other administrative records, would be vulnerable to constitutional attack. And in “bigger pie” and “better allocation” litigation, courts would consider not only whether the plaintiffs’ evidence is strong enough to order statewide reforms, but also whether the difficulty of learning about the effects of spending levels or allocative constraints without the cooperation of the state warrants a test of the plaintiff-sought remedy, which would be implemented temporarily in a randomly selected subset of schools or school districts. 

Our informational gloss on the state’s duty of care with respect to education offers a way forward in the many states whose courts have, on separation-of-powers grounds, declined wade into the Stygian swamp of funding and allocative disputes. Courts can address barriers to the production of knowledge about education without touching large-scale questions about how much to spend on education and how to spend it. Whatever else the states may owe to disadvantaged children, at least the states must make it possible to learn whether their efforts to better educate those children are doing any good.

September 12, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

New School Funding Law to Move Illinois from Terrible to Respectable?

Illinois has long been one of the worst offenders in terms of school funding fairness.  It is one of the wealthier states in the nation, yet the effort it exerts to fund education has been among the worst.  School funding fairness reports have regularly ranked its effort as a D or low C in comparison to other states.  The most troubling feature of Illinois school funding, however, has been how unfairly it distributes the meager school funds that it actually generates.  

In the 2010 funding fairness  report, Illinois ranked 48th in the nation in terms of funding levels in districts serving moderate numbers of low-income students compared to those with almost no low-income students.  Districts serving moderate numbers of low-income students received 22% less funding per student than districts with few to no low-income students. The 2017 report showed the same problem.  Illinois ranked 47th on this metric and the funding gap had grown to 23%.

The blame for this gap has rested squarely at the feet of the state legislature, which has chosen to place extraordinarily high burdens on local school districts to fund education themselves.  With little state support, this districts are left to sink or swim on their own.  Too many tread water or simply sink.

The irony is that Illinois' state constitution includes one of the strong education guarantees in the nation.  Article X of the state constitution provides:

A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.

The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and service.

I will refrain from an exegesis of this clause and its history, but would emphasis that it has two explicit phrases that are missing from most other state constitutions: "fundamental" and "high quality."  The crucial question under state and federal constitutional law has been whether education is a fundamental right.  Illinois states it as a fundamental goal, which adds a distinction, but the all-important word fundamental is there.

The other crucial question in state courts has been whether the state constitution can be interpreted as some sort of quality mandate and, if so, what is that mandate.  Illinois' constitutional language leaves no doubt.  The word "shall" indicates a mandate and "high quality" directly answers the other question.

Nonetheless, the Illinois courts have done nothing to hold the state accountable for complying with these constitutional mandates.  Unlike the majority of other state court systems, Illinois courts have said school funding raises a political question and, thus, is left to the discretion of the legislature.  Aggrieved citizens' only recourse, said the Illinois Supreme Court, is the ballot box.  Well, it has taken decades, but the politics in Illinois have finally shifted.

On Tuesday, the state Senate passed a new school funding formula.  The bill amended and strengthened the house version and the governor has said he will sign it.  According to reports, it will drive far more funds toward needy districts and place less reliance on local property tax.  This new formula is said to be "evidence based," meaning that it responds to student and district need rather than geographic politics.

It sounds like the state is about to take a major step forward, but I will wait for someone like Bruce Baker to run the numbers and confirm it.  I also cannot help but note that the bill included new money for tax credits for private school, otherwise know as neo-vouchers.  I did not follow the politics on this, but imagine the deal was held hostage by an ideological stance on vouchers.

August 31, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Who Is to Blame As the National Teacher Shortage Enters Its Third Year?

For the third year in a row, public schools will begin the year with too few qualified teachers to cover their classes.  Every state in the country has reported a shortage to the U.S. Department of Education.  The shortage appears to have eased in some places and intensified in others.  Edweek reports 

[Oklahoma] issued a record-setting 1,160 emergency certifications in 2016-17 and 855 by the beginning of August for this academic year. These certifications allow people without a teaching certificate to teach for one year, or allow a certified teacher to teach a new subject before getting recertified.

And in Nevada, the fast-growing Clark County district, which includes Las Vegas and is the fifth-largest in the country, is starting its school year with almost 400 teaching vacancies—significant, though a far cry from the more than 900 openings the district had at the start of 2015-16.

Numbers like these, however, vastly understate the problem in some states.  Confronting an unmanageable shortfall, states like California, Arizona, and others have simply changed the law regarding the credentials it takes to step foot in the classroom.  California developed a program that allowed interns to become full-time teachers so long as they promised to complete their studies on the weekends.  And by intern, I mean someone who is just starting their education studies.  This summer Arizona passed a law to allow people without any formal teacher training to enter the classroom, so long as they had a bachelor's degree or five years of experience in a relevant field.  In other words, those schools that report a fully staffed faculty may have a group of teachers who are far less qualified than they were in past years.

As I explain in a recent article, this shortage is not simply part of the regular ebb and flow of the market.  It is of states' own making.  During the recession, they over-gouged public education budgets, went to war on teachers themselves, and took money that could have went to traditional public schools and drove it to choice programs.  The effect was to scare new and prospective teachers away from the profession.  The teacher pipeline was more than cut in half in California.  And when states' revenues rebounded following the recession, states refused to undo the damage they had done.  Instead, they simply set a new normal, continuing to fund education at levels lower than before the recession.  Even today, roughly half of states spend less in real dollar terms on education than they did in 2008.  This is to say nothing of the war on teachers that some states are still willing to wage.

So while I bemoan the struggles that individual districts are facing, the real culprit is their state legislatures.  And while court have no direct responsibility for education, they have, at least, enabled these legislatures.  In prior decades, courts have forcefully intervened to block these types of assaults on public education and insisted on state legislatures adopting rational policies to carry out their constitutional duties regarding education.  Over the last decade, however, courts have increasingly looked the other way.

The abstract to Averting Educational Crisis: Funding Cuts, Teacher Shortages, and the Dwindling Commitment to Public Education offers this summary of trends as they stood in 2016 and teases a few solutions:

Two-thirds of states are funding education at a lower level today than they did in 2008. Some states are a full twenty percent or more below levels of just a few years earlier. The effect on schools has been dramatic. States have only exacerbated the problem by reducing teachers’ rights and benefits. These attacks on teachers, combined with funding decreases, have scared many prospective teachers away from the profession all together. The net result has been an extreme shortage of teachers nationwide. This past fall, large numbers of public schools opened without enough certified teachers to fill classrooms, relying instead on substitutes and interns on a full-time basis. In other instances, schools simply stopped offering certain classes. Decades of social science demonstrate these funding and teaching policies will have serious academic impacts on students. They will likely widen achievement gaps and impose learning deficits that some students will never overcome. 

In the face of analogous threats, courts in the past have regularly intervened to protect educational quality and funding. Yet this time around, courts have almost uniformly refused to intervene and rarely offered a compelling reasoning for the refusal. This judicial passivism regarding education marks a troubling new trend. It suggests that the constitutional right to education may exist only in theory and that students are losing the constitutional leverage to demand that states repair the damage that they have caused. Likewise, nothing will prevent states from pursuing similar retractions again in the future.

This Article offers a doctrinal approach to reverse both educational retractions and judicial disengagement. Current trends, however, cannot be reversed without acknowledging the potential limits of judicial intervention during crisis. In particular, a serious crisis incites fear and political expediency, which can prompt legislatures to ignore court orders that purport to remedy the crisis. This disregard is inherently problematic for both education rights and the basic legitimacy of judicial authority, regardless of the subject matter. In this respect, the solution to the devaluation of education rights is also a step toward strengthening judicial authority. In education, courts must begin to incorporate prospective doctrines and rules that reduce the likelihood of judicial standoffs with legislatures. Simply put, future court orders should seek to avert crises by addressing them before they occur. This Article proposes three specific steps courts can take to achieve this end.

On one level, this may all sound like lofty theorizing, but the point of the paper is far more practical: the immediate crises that schools face are not ones that courts or states can easily fix after-the-fact.  Recessions will come no matter what.  The risk of shortages will always be present.  The solution, then, is to plan ahead.  

Schools deliver education not as single year chunks, but as collective thirteen year experiences.  States must have processes and plans in place that anticipate problems, allowing them to weather recessions.  This is no easy thing to do.  The politics are predisposed against it.  But I argue in the article that by consistently holding states accountable and adopting a few common sense standards, courts can begin to prompt states toward better decision making.  States might protect their teacher pipelines through thick and thin so that they might not need to issue emergency waivers and establish alternative teacher programs every decade or so.

 

August 24, 2017 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New Mexico Education System Heads to Trial; State Already Making Questionable Claims

In 2014, plaintiffs filed two different lawsuits challenging New Mexico's education system. The first alleged that ELL and economically disadvantaged students are receiving a substandard education under the state's funding scheme and A-F grading system. The state's education funding formula, the plaintiffs alleged, fails to allocate sufficient supplemental funds for areas were the needs are greatest for at-risk and special needs students. The funding inequity, combined with the teacher evaluation system, results in experienced teachers avoiding lower-ranked schools. The second lawsuit raises similar issues and emphasizes that the outcomes for students in the state have fallen to the bottom of nation.

The trial started this week.  The AP reports:

"These failings are costing students the opportunity to succeed," said Marisa Bono, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, in opening statements to the court. "The state is pumping hundreds of thousands of students into the state economy who are wholly unprepared for college or career."

Education officials under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez say spending is more than adequate, and that the state has added specialized programs to help struggling students while holding teachers and school leaders more accountable for students' academic progress.

In opening statements Monday, an attorney for the state said high levels of poverty across New Mexico have a major impact on the results of student testing — something that won't be addressed by funneling more money toward public schools.

"The evidence will show that additional spending will have virtually no effect on student test scores," attorney Jeff Wechsler said. "The defendants cannot show that spending more will impact them in any meaningful way."

. . . .

The plaintiffs called on Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia — a former state public education secretary — to testify about what she described as shockingly low levels of proficiency in math and reading among graduating students.

Garcia noted that many schools are not included in new programs that intercede at an early age by expanding pre-school to 4-year-olds and lengthening the school day and school year through third grade. She faulted the overall level of state funding for public schools, as well as limited funds for programs tailored toward the students from low-income households where English is not the primary language.

It will be interesting to see what evidence Wechlsler uses to defend his claim that additional money is inconsequential.  Maybe, he hopes to focus on "virtually" no "meaningful" effect, rather than suggest there is no effect.  But even then, past research is not on his side.  As detailed in Averting Educational Crisis, new research findings shoe a particularly compelling connection.  For instance, Kirabo Jackson's study of three decades of data "found that a 20% increase in per-pupil funding, if maintained over the course of a students’ education career, results in low-income students completing almost a full additional year’s worth of education.  That additional learning eliminates two-thirds of the gap in outcomes between low- and middle-income students."  Likewise, the Kansas Supreme Court emphasized a recent study by the state itself that "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."

 

 

 

June 14, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Why Schools Still Can't Put Segregation Behind Them

 

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The Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate U.S. public schools sparked protests across the country. This one took place in Louisville, Kentucky, 1956. AP Photo

Derek Black, University of South Carolina

A federal district court judge has decided that Gardendale – a predominantly white city in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama – can move forward in its effort to secede from the school district that serves the larger county. The district Gardendale is leaving is 48 percent black and 44 percent white. The new district would be almost all white.

The idea that a judge could allow this is unfathomable to most, but the case demonstrates in the most stark terms that school segregation is still with us. While racial segregation in U.S. schools plummeted between the late 1960s and 1980, it has steadily increased ever since – to the the point that schools are about as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.

As a former school desegregation lawyer and now a scholar of educational inequality and law, I have both witnessed and researched an odd shift to a new kind of segregation that somehow seems socially acceptable. So long as it operates with some semblance of furthering educational quality or school choice, even a federal district court is willing to sanction it.

While proponents of the secession claim they just want the best education for their children and opponents decry the secession as old-school racism, the truth is more complex: Race, education and school quality are inextricably intertwined.

Continue reading

June 7, 2017 in Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump Budget Would Abandon Public Education for Private Choice

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump participate in a round-table discussion during a visit to Saint Andrew Catholic School in Miami. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Derek Black, University of South Carolina

The Trump administration has announced its plan to transform education funding as we know it. The new budget proposal takes aim at a host of elementary, secondary and higher education programs that serve needy students, redirecting those funds toward K-12 school choice in the form of vouchers, tax credits and charter schools. The Conversation

Public schools that enroll a large percentage of low-income students stand to lose significant chunks of their budget, as well as a number of specialized federal programs for their students. At the same time, the Trump budget will incentivize families to leave not only these schools, but public schools in general.

As a scholar of education law and policy, I note that my recent research on state voucher and charter programs shows that the loss of both money and core constituents proposed by this new budget could throw public education into a downward spiral.

Continue reading

May 24, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

New Jersey School District Forced to Spend $39 Million to Support Private Education While District Runs $15 Million Deficit in Its Own Schools

Lakewood School District in New Jersey has a budget crisis on its hands--a deficit of $15 million for the coming year.  The district is forced to spend about $39 million on non-publication education.  Regardless, to make up the shortfall in the public schools, the district plans to lay off over a 100 teachers and staff, eliminate sports programs, and drastically increase class size.  In a state where the constitution guarantees students a "thorough and efficient" education and its courts have rigorously enforced this right, these cuts are troubling indeed--so much so that the state department of education has said it will not certify the district's budget as being in compliance with that constitutional mandate.  In his recent essay in Asbury Park Press, David Sciarra writes:

Lakewood’s budget crisis is nothing new. The district lurches from year to year, making cuts in essential teachers, support staff, programs and services.

The victims of this tragedy are the 6,000 Lakewood public school children. Virtually all are poor and 95 percent are Latino or black. Twenty-seven percent are limited English proficient and 15 percent require special education.

The cause of Lakewood’s budget crisis is no secret. The district must not only support its public schools but it must pay to transport 30,000 students to private schools and pay for the cost of special education for many of those same private school students.

The drain on Lakewood’s budget from non-public expenditures is enormous. The district is forced to divert nearly $13 million in funds earmarked for public school students to pay for non-public transportation. It also must shoulder $26 million in non-public special education costs.

The state has the power to fix Lakewood’s budget crisis now. It doesn’t need new laws or changes to the school funding formula.

Acting Commissioner Kimberly Harrington has the authority to restructure the budget so it provides Lakewood students a thorough and efficient education. And Lakewood’s state fiscal monitor, Michael Azzara, is empowered to override the board of education if necessary to eliminate the budget deficit.

These state officials must act. First, they must halt the transfer of $13 million in public school funds to subsidize non-public transportation. Keeping those funds in Lakewood’s budget — where they belong — will stop the bleeding and allow the district to maintain essential services to its students.

Second, they must take the operation and cost of special education to non-public school students out of the district’s hands. The state must assume full responsibility to approve and pay for special education in private schools. This would relieve Lakewood of a fiscal and managerial burden it simply can no longer handle.

Let’s face it. The Lakewood budget has become nothing more than a vehicle for funneling vast sums of public school funds to pay for private and religious schools. This must end. Private school students are not constitutionally entitled to a thorough and efficient education. Only Lakewood public school children are.

April 26, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nevada Pushing Work Around for the Voucher Program Declared Unconstitutional Last Year; David Sciarra Calls It a Trojan Horse

Last year, advocates for public education in Nevada secured a majority victory.  The Nevada Supreme Court found that the state's voucher program violated the state constitution's provisions for supporting public education.  The program funded vouchers with money that the constitution mandates to go to public education.  The Governor has now cooked up a new plan that he thinks solves the problem, but as David Sciarra points out, the new one, as a practical matter, is not really any different.  And if it passes, it threatens to lead the state down the same path as Arizona, which I argued has placed the viability of public education in danger.  Here is David Sciarra's essay, first published in the Las Vegas Sun:

Arizona offers glimpse into threat ESA bill poses to Nevada schools

Gov. Brian Sandoval is pressing lawmakers to revive the private school voucher program blocked last September by the Nevada Supreme Court. The court ruled the program was unconstitutional because it would deplete funds earmarked by the Legislature to operate Nevada’s public schools.

The governor’s bill, SB506, carries forward most features of the prior law. Sandoval wants the per-pupil amount spent on public school students, roughly $5,700, to be deposited into education savings accounts to subsidize private and religious school tuition and pay for other private education expenses. The governor also wants vouchers for any household, even the wealthy. And like the prior law, 100 days of public school enrollment is the only eligibility requirement.

To get around the Supreme Court ruling, SB506 changes the way vouchers are funded.

The funding will not come directly out of public school budgets. Instead, Sandoval proposes a separate appropriation of $60 million over the biennium.

At that level, approximately 2,500 vouchers can be awarded each year, not enough for everyone who signed up under the prior law. So the vouchers will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lawmakers should flatly reject the governor’s bill. And they need look no further than to Arizona for the reasons why.

In 2011, Arizona enacted an ESA voucher program limited to students with disabilities. Once it got rolling, vouchers were expanded to include students in low-performing public schools.

This year, 3,200 vouchers were funded by Arizona taxpayers, totaling $49 million. The vast majority of the voucher funds are used to subsidize tuition, fees and other expenses charged by religious and private schools.

But Arizona voucher proponents weren’t satisfied. Cheered on by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed legislation expanding vouchers again, this time making all 1.1 million public school students eligible. To pass the bill, proponents accepted a cap of 5,500 new students per year and 30,000 students over the next five years. The cost to taxpayers and the public schools could quickly swell to over $100 million or more.

But make no mistake: Voucher proponents are already aiming to lift the caps and throw the program open to everyone.

As in other states, Arizona’s voucher law lacks accountability. Private schools don’t have to administer the same tests as public schools, so there is no way to know if student outcomes are better.

Oversight of voucher accounts is lax. A recent audit uncovered payments for groceries, games and gift cards using voucher funds.

Like those who signed up for Nevada’s vouchers, most Arizona voucher recipients are from affluent neighborhoods, according to an investigation by the Arizona Republic. As a state senator who opposes vouchers noted, the expansion of vouchers will only spur the exodus of affluent white parents from the public schools, leaving those schools to educate students of color, poor students and English language learners with less money.

And public school funding in Arizona, like Nevada, is among the lowest and most inadequate in the country.

So Nevada legislators beware. Gov. Sandoval’s voucher bill is a Trojan horse. His $60 million for vouchers is just the start.

Once voucher proponents get their foot in the door, they will follow the Arizona playbook, demanding expansion in the next biennium session. And, led by DeVos, they will not stop until they achieve their goal of taking down our public schools, without regard to the educational damage inflicted on the children left behind.

April 20, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Kansas Supreme Court: Champions of Fair School Funding By David Sciarra

 The Kansas Supreme Court once again stood firmly on established precedent when, on March 2, the Justices declared Kansas school funding inadequate to support the actual cost of educating students to meet the state' s academic standards.

The ruling in Gannon v. State addresses head-on Governor Sam Brownback' s drastic reductions in public school funding, pushed through to pay for his massive tax cuts.

The Supreme Court has given the Legislature to June 30 to remedy the constitutional violation.

The latest Gannon ruling flows from the Kansas Legislature' s waffling on restoring Governor Brownback' s formula aid cuts. In 2014, the Legislature took steps to increase school aid, but reversed itself a year later.

The Gannon student and district plaintiffs, represented by Wichita attorney Alan Rupe and Newton attorney John Robb, turned again to the Supreme Court for relief. The Court bifurcated the issues in the case into equity and adequacy and sent the case to a lower court to develop an evidentiary record.

In February 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the funding system was inequitable and ordered a remedy by June 30, 2016. The Legislature complied by the deadline.

In its March 2017 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court' s finding that Governor Brownback' s school aid cuts rendered the finance system constitutionally inadequate. The Court concluded that "every witness, including experts...confirmed that the costs of educating Kansas students and the demands on Kansas education had only increased since 2007...creating a gap between demands and resources in Kansas public education."

The Court relied on exhaustive evidence of severe deficits in essential resources in Kansas schools, including full-day kindergarten, extracurricular activities, and professional development. The resource deficits also included librarians, speech therapists, coaches, nurses, counselors and other staff, along with foreign language and art and music programs.

The Court also affirmed evidence of poor student outcomes, citing the unacceptable performance on state assessments of Kansas students overall, and students of color and low-income students in particular. The Court noted that, when the number of underperforming African American and Latino students is combined, the total equals all of the 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."

The Court also affirmed the lower court' s finding of a correlation between inadequate state funding and the decline in student achievement. The Court cited the "substantial evidence" that when funding increased after a previous school funding decision, student achievement also increased, and when funding was cut, student achievement also fell.

The Court concluded "the impact of the loss of funding" under the Brownback Administration was "endemic, systemic, and statewide."

The Gannon ruling follows the path taken by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Abbott v. Burke in 2011, when, based on a trial record of reductions in essential resources, the Court invalidated Governor Chris Christie' s $1.1 billion cut in formula aid and ordered the aid restored to urban districts.

But Gannon also stands in stark contrast to recent decisions by the Texas and Colorado Supreme Courts. Those Courts overturned trial court rulings of inadequate and unconstitutional school funding, ignoring both the overwhelming weight of the trial evidence and their own prior court precedents.

Unlike the Texas and Colorado Supreme Courts, the Kansas high court has stood steadfast in applying its precedent to vindicate the constitutional rights of the state' s school children to the resources needed to achieve Kansas's academic standards. The Kansas Supreme Court, in the face of deep recalcitrance by the Executive and Legislature, has demonstrated the institutional integrity that is the hallmark of an independent judiciary. And, by doing so, the Kansas Court has once again proved to be a true champion of equity.

April 12, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Court Orders New York to Release School Improvement Funds to Schools by Education Law Center

In a major victory for parents, a New York appeals court has ordered the State Division of Budget to immediately release over $37 million in improvement grants to 20 needy schools across the state. A year ago, the grants were frozen by Governor Andrew Cuomo's Budget Director, Robert Mujica, triggering a lawsuit by parents of students in three of the affected schools.

"I am most happy for the children who would benefit from these funds as it shows them that there are people other than their parents who care about their future," said Curtis Witters, a parent plaintiff in the lawsuit. "I hope the schools will utilize these funds to help our students be as successful and progressive as possible."

Education Law Center represents the parents of students in the three schools: Hackett Middle School in Albany, Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, and JHS 80 Moshulo Parkway Middle School in the Bronx.

In an order issued today, the appeals court "vacated," or lifted, a "stay" of a December 28, 2016, decision by Judge Kimberly O'Connor in Albany finding Mr. Mujica had acted illegally in withholding the grants. Judge O'Connor directed the Budget Director to immediately release the impounded grant funds.

An appeal of by the Cuomo Administration triggered an automatic stay of Judge O'Connor's ruling. The parents then asked the appeals court to lift the stay, citing the urgent need to release the funds so needed programs could be implemented in the upcoming (2017-18) school year. Today's order clears the way for the funds to be released so the schools can begin their planning process.

"We are pleased the Appellate Division ordered the immediate release of the grant funds," said Wendy Lecker, ELC Senior Attorney. "These grants were frozen illegally, forcing the schools to discontinue vital academic and support services in the current school year. These schools can now plan to restore these programs to improve performance and help their students succeed."

"Mr. Mujica had no legal basis for impounding these grants in the first place," said ELC Executive Director David Sciarra. "It's tragic that the Cuomo Administration would waste time and money to defend their illegal action in court, rather than working cooperatively with local educators to improve outcomes for vulnerable children."

In addition to vacating the stay, the appeals court also granted the parents' motion to expedite consideration of the merits of the appeal, placing it on the court's May 2017 calendar.

For more information about Cortes v. Mujica, visit these pages on the Education Law Center website.

March 28, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Study Finds Court Ordered Funding Reforms Produce Five Percent Increase in Graduation Rates

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.

 

March 23, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Trump's Proposed Education Cuts Are Headscratchers

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.

 

 

March 16, 2017 in Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

DeVos Says the Real Problem in Education Is the Federal Government

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.

March 14, 2017 in ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Wyoming School Funding Cuts on Their Way to Governor's Office; Will Litigation Follow?

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.

March 7, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

March 6, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Education Policy Is Tax Policy and the Real Challenge Is the Latter

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.

February 21, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

 And with Democrats and Republicans still unable to agree on how much money they need to satisfy the court’s McCleary decision, the question of where, specifically, that money should come from can feel secondary.
 

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.

That’s despite a nearly yearlong bipartisan task force that was supposed to come up with cost estimates by the time the Legislature began, a deadline that came and went this month.

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.

February 6, 2017 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)