Thursday, August 20, 2015

School Funding Litigation Over the Past Year by Molly Hunter

As ofAugust 2015, school funding litigations seeking better educational opportunities for underserved students continue in state trial courts and supreme courts across the country, including in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

In the latest development, the Washington Supreme Court imposed a $100,000 per day sanction on the State, in the ongoing McCleary case.

Both the South Carolina and Washington Supreme Courts declared their states' school funding systems unconstitutional, in Abbeville v. State (S.C. 2014) and McCleary v. State (Wash. 2012). Both supreme courts retained jurisdiction. After the Abbeville decision, the South Carolina Senate and House established task forces to study the situation and recommend remedial measures in time for their 2016 session.

In the face of a huge tax cut, Kansas slashed funding to its schools, which led to the Gannon v. State of Kansas lawsuit. Plaintiffs claimed and state courts have agreed that the cuts made the state's school funding system inadequate and inequitable, in violation of the Kansas Constitution. The state resolved the equity problem in 2014, but made additional changes in the 2015 session. After a hearing, the district court found the state funding system is now violating both the adequacy and equity requirements of the constitution. That decision is on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.

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August 20, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Supreme Court Fines Washington State $100,000 a Day for Failure to Implement School Funding Remedy

The Washington Supreme Court has lost its patience with the legislature.  In 2012, in McCleary v. State, the court held that the state had failed to comply with its constitutional duty "to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."  The court left it to the legislature to devise a reasonable solution to the flaws in its funding system.  Since then, the court has forced to order the state to comply with its duty to act within the deadlines the legislature set for itself.  The state has, nonetheless, failed to comply with its own plan.  Last year, the court held the state in contempt for its failure.  Yesterday, the court took the ultimate measure, imposing a fine of $100,000 a day for each day the state remains in violation of the court's January 9, 2014 order.  This step has proven successful in places like Arizona, which drug its feet for years until the court imposed a financial sanction, but then acted within a matter of a couple of weeks.  One can only for the same result in Washington. 

The court's order is here.

August 14, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Trial Judge Says He Cannot Force Mississippi to Follow Its School Funding Laws

Last week, trial judge, William Singletary, ruled that Mississippi is not required to fully fund the state's education budget. The budget, when fully funded, is calculated to distribute enough funds to allow each school district to meet mid-level academic standards. The formula for the education budget was set in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program of 1997. However, the budget has not been fully funded since 2010. Last year, former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, on behalf of 21 school districts, filed suit seeking to enforce the funding law and recoup more than $240 million – the amount the budget was allegedly shortchanged over the past six years.

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August 4, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2015

School Improvement Grants: What Worked and Didn't

A new Century Foundation report examines what worked and did not work in those schools that received federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs) starting in 2009.  Through funds allocated in the economic stimulus package, the Department of Education has been able to direct about $3.5 billion toward the nation's lowest performing schools.  The grant awards for individual schools amounted to as much as $2 million a year for three years.  The study finds:

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July 24, 2015 in Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Holy Cow: Senate Bill Would Change Title I Funding Formula

Sorry for the multiple posts, but ESEA reauthorization is moving in its furious last moments in the Senate with big news.  I have commented over the past few days about the enormous political hurdles to changing Title I's funding formulas and the necessity to do so.  Apparently, Senator Burr worked some magic an hour or so ago because his amendment to alter the formulas for the first time in decades passed.  For those who do not know, Title I funds are the major source of federal funds in public schools and they are the teeth that force or carrots that encourage states to comply with all of the educational policies in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  

I had assumed the likelihood of a formula change was so small that I had not dug into the details of the new formula.  The full reauthorization bill must still pass the Senate, which will vote later today. If it passes, I will dig into the details tomorrow, although it is still highly possible that the formula change will not make it through a reconciliation process with the House.

There is, however, one huge caveat.  The only way he got the amendment through was to indirectly delay the implementation of the change.  It would only apply to Title I funds in excess of $17 billion. We currently set at $14 billion.  So its effect would not be felt for years.  But it is a clever solution to the underlying problem of the warring winners and losers.

More on why the funding formulas need reform here.

More on the current vote here.

July 16, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Plaintiffs Claim New York Has Failed to Implement Funding Reforms That Court Ordered

This release comes from the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University:

In 2014, New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights (NYSER) filed a lawsuit on the behalf of New York State's public school students charging that the state is neglecting its constitutional duty to ensure that every student receives a "sound basic education." In NYSER v. State of New York, plaintiffs argue the state has failed to implement the school-funding reforms that it committed to adopt in response to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) court decisions.

To move the case ahead more quickly, earlier last week, NYSER plaintiffs filed a "motion for summary judgment" that asks State Supreme Court Justice Manuel J. Mendez to bypass a lengthy trial and declare, based on the state's indisputable actions and inactions in recent years, that the state has violated the Court of Appeals' CFE orders and has failed to achieve constitutional compliance. 

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July 9, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Nevada School Districts Face Significant Budget Deficits by Molly Hunter

The final education budget adopted, in June 2015, by the Nevada Legislature for the 2015-2017 biennium does little to improve school funding overall and reduces most districts' general operating budgets for the 2015-2016 school year, an analysis by Educate Nevada Now! (ENN!) shows.

Under the "Nevada Plan," which is the state's 1967 school funding formula still in effect, the general operating budget represents the amount of state and local funding available to each district to support the basic education program for all students. A key component of the general operating budget is the amount of state aid and local revenue allocated by the Legislature to each district, known as the Basic Support Guarantee (BSG). The BSG accounts for 75-80% of districts' operating budgets.

An analysis of the budget adopted by the Legislature in June shows a significant decrease in per pupil BSG in the largest district in the state, the Clark County School District (CCSD), which serves about 322,000 children, over 70% of the state's entire student population. CCSD expects to receive $5,512 per pupil, $15 less than the 2014-2015 school year. In Washoe County, the state's second largest school district, funding remains nearly flat. And, some rural districts are also bracing for less per pupil funding in the coming school year.

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July 8, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Can We Fix Poor Schools Without Fixing Poverty?

An article in the Atlantic, drawing on the research of Pamela Cantor, says we can.  Cantor frames the problem as one of childhood trauma.  She finds that poverty has effects on brain and other development that mirrors that of other types of childhood trauma.  

[Poor children] had all experienced loss, violence, neglect, or other adversity. And no matter what traumatic events they had experienced, the results were similar: they showed up distrustful, easily triggered and distractible. I couldn’t make the adversity they faced go away. But I could and did change how they surmounted that adversity.

What I saw in Washington Heights students were the same manifestations of trauma I had seen in my patients. I saw how adversity gets under the skin, into the brains and bodies of children through the mechanisms of stress. And I saw that when lots of kids experience high levels of stress together, it produces a very specific collection of challenges to a school, to a classroom, and to the students themselves.

The solution she says is to develop interventions aimed at the trauma of poverty, rather than chasing the illusive solution to poverty itself.  In a separate paper, she proposes

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July 6, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2015

State Court Holds That Pennsylvania Department of Education Must Investigate Curricular Deficiencies in Philadelphia

In September 2013, a group of parents filed a lawsuit in state court against the Pennsylvania Department of Education, alleging the Secretary of Education violated her mandatory regulatory duties by failing to carry out her duty to “receive and investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies.” 22 Pa. Code § 4.81.  Last week, the trial court in Allen v. Dumaresq issued an opinion agreeing in large part.

The lawsuit arises out of parents previous attempts to have the Secretary intervene in Philadelphia's under-resourced schools.  Parents had previously filed 825 complaints with the Department regarding the reduction of thousands of staff positions and expenditures in Philadelphia schools. The complaints ranged from overcrowded classrooms, inadequate counselor staffing, numerous reductions in art, foreign languages, and physical education in the curriculum, and unsanitary toilet conditions. Petitioners claim that these conditions impede the delivery of the curriculum and students’ ability to learn it.  The lawsuit claims that the Secretary never responded to many of those complaints.  Those to which she did respond revealed a failure to carry out her duty.  The Secretary simply sent out letters calling the allegations a “local matter” and that their allegations would be forwarded to the District.

The trial court reasoned that complaints regarding facilities and staff were non-curricular and, thus, the Secretary was not bound to investigate them.  But allegations of reduced access to art, foreign language courses, and physical education were curricular matters. Thus, the Secretary was obligated to receive, investigate and correct these allegations if necessary. 

June 29, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Funding Formula Moves to Full Senate in Pennyslvania

Things are looking up in Pennsylvania.  Earlier this year, I posted on the state forming the Basic Education Funding Commission to study how the state might distribute education funds more fairly across school districts.  The Commission released its recommendations last Thursday.  It proposed a new funding formula that weighs student and community factors such as poverty levels, number of English language learners, charter school enrollment, school district size, average income per household, and a district’s ability to raise funds. The formula would use a three-year average to account for student population to help account for school district growth as well.

This week, the Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to approval the Commission’s formula.  The formula will now move to the Senate for consideration and hopefully a vote. The state is still a long way from the finish line, but in a state that distributed education funds without any formula for years, that repealed a short-lived formula when its newest governor took office, and that has allowed Philadelphia schools to languish with huge budget shortfalls and basic resource needs over the past two years, this is a big step forward.  Stay tuned.

June 24, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New National Funding Fairness Report: Education Budgets Have Not Been Replenished Post-Recession

The Education Law Center's annual report on school funding fairness is now available.  For those unfamiliar with the past reports, they provide a sophisticated analysis of all 50 states that breaks school funding into four distinct metrics: the adequacy of the actual funding level in each state; the extent to which a state fairly distributes the funds it has, regardless of the adequacy of those funds; the effort a state exerts to fund education (a poor state can try hard and still produce inadequate funds); and the extent to which public schools are educating all of the states students and, if not, how those students differ from those in private school.  

The report says the following major findings stand out:

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June 10, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tentative Education Funding Agreement to Avoid Government Shutdown in Minnesota

After weeks of disagreements, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and majority House Republicans in Minnesota came to a tentative deal this week regarding the largest unresolved piece of the state budget – education funding. Despite asking for 550 million, Dayton, in order to avoid a July 1 government shutdown, accepted the Republicans latest offer to add another 525 million to the budget for early childhood and high school education (the Republicans also dropped a controversial teacher tenure policy change). Dayton hopes to call a special session for legislative ratification within the next two weeks, but admits that there are some finer details in their agreement to be worked out before the session will be called. Earlier yesterday, before the deal, the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget mailed out layoff notices to 9,451 workers as a contingency plan if budget issues are not completely resolved by July 1. If there is a partial shutdown, like the 2005 and 2011 shutdowns, a Minnesota court may be asked to declare some state functions critical in order to keep them running. 

June 4, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Supreme Court Holding on Maryland's Income Tax Only Adds to School Funding Woes

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, declared a Maryland income tax provision unconstitutional. According to Maryland officials, this ruling leaves the state of Maryland with a predicted annual revenue loss of about $42 million and also a debt of approximately $200 million owed in refunds to certain residents. This decision could significantly impact public education in Maryland because the money received through the tax at the county level currently contributes to funding local school systems.

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May 26, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Maryland's Governor Diverts School Funds: Will Litigation Follow?

Last week Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, announced that the 68 million dollars allotted by the state legislature for education would go to the state pension fund instead. Hogan’s plan for fiscal austerity would mean that 11.6 million of those dollars would be withheld from the Baltimore public schools. According to the Education Reform Project at American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the funding cuts would disproportionately affect Baltimore schools and ultimately hurt some of the most vulnerable students in Maryland. Baltimore’s Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pointed to the recent civil unrest as evidence of the critical need for the money to go to the state’s education system. Furthermore, earlier this year the Baltimore City Public Schools announced a 17.8 million cut from next years school budget due to other state funding cuts and a pre-existing school budget deficit. Despite reassurances that the cuts would not affect classroom teachers, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in east Baltimore will see five English faculty positions dissolve leaving only three certified English teachers and one substitute teacher to teach English to 900 students. Youth Advocates in Maryland lament that Hogan’s announcement is just another example of how the state has not correctly prioritized education. 

With one of the higher funding levels in the nation, Maryland has generally managed to ward off extensive school finance litigation (although it has been subject to some).  This new diversion of funds may or may not call for redress.  On one hand, sixty-eight million dollars is not necessarily a huge number.  By my calculations, it is about an $80 cut per student or $31,000 for a school of 400. As with all school funding, however, the devil is in the detail.  If this cut is targeted, it might fall disproportionately on some schools.  Sixty-eight million dollars, for instance, is just over one-third the size of the state's entire Title I grant from the federal government.

May 19, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Study Busts Assumptions: New Teachers Are Not Fleeing the Profession

The Department of Education's new longitudinal study on teacher attrition indicates that the conventional wisdom is wrong.  Past research has indicated that new teachers leave the profession in droves.  The common refrain is that half of new teachers leave within five years.  Looking at five years of data (from 2007–08 through 2011–12), the Department found that 83% of the new teachers in the first year of the study were still teaching 5 years later.  The biggest hit was in the first year, after which 10 percent of teachers left the profession.  In subsequent years, however, attrition fell to only two to three percent.  The study also found that two factors appeared to play a role in those schools with the lowest attrition rates: salary and mentorship.

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May 6, 2015 in School Funding, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Indiana School Funding Going Regressive or Just Irrational in Its Assumptions?

Last week, the Indiana House and Senate approved a new school funding formula that local advocates say is regressive.  Of the 25 highest income districts in the state, all 25 will see increases under the new budget.  Of the 25 lowest income districts in the state, 13 will experience losses in either state or local funding.  Those facts are mind boggling if true, and Indiana's school funding practices are sufficiently complex that I could not easily sort out an absolutely clear explanation.  I did, however, discern what would appear to be a few important factors.

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May 4, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Department of Education's New Special Education Funding Rule by Mark Weber

On Tuesday, April 28, the Department of Education issued a final rule covering maintenance of effort (sometimes called “nonsupplanting”) by school districts and other local education agencies in connection with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding. As is the case with many other federal programs, IDEA aims to supplement, not supplant, what states and localities would be doing on their own. Accordingly, LEAs are not permitted to reduce the level of expenditures from local funds below the level for the preceding fiscal year, except in specific circumstances, such as decreases in special education enrollment, the termination of services to a child with a particularly costly program, and the completion of construction or other expensive long-term projects. 

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April 30, 2015 in School Funding, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pennsylvania School Funding Heading to State Supreme Court by Molly Hunter

On April 21, 2015, the trial court in Pennsylvania, where petitioners filed a lawsuit claiming the state is failing to adequately and equitably fund its public schools, interpreted prior state supreme court precedent as eliminating the courts' role in such a case.

William Penn School District, et al., v. Department of Education, et al., was filed last November by six school districts, seven parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference. The lawsuit alleges that legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor violated their constitutional obligation to provide a system of public education that gives all children in Pennsylvania the opportunity to meet state-imposed academic standards and be prepared for life in today's world.

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April 28, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 24, 2015

How the Pending ESEA Bill Could Move Funding Equity Backward

Yesterday, Nora Gordon focused on one of the more technical aspects of the pending Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: the supplement not supplant standard. The standard requires that Title I funds for low income students only be used to supplement the resources that state and local entities were already providing those students, not supplant them. Gordon summarized the new revisions and her sense of their importance:

The larger legacy of the Every Child Achieves Act may well be how it cleans up supplement not supplant, a little discussed and often misunderstood fiscal rule with a big impact on how schools actually spend the $14 billion of NCLB Title I funds. The proposed legislation makes two important changes: (1) it requires districts to show they are distributing their state and local funds across schools without regard to the federal funds that each school receives; and (2) it increases local autonomy over how to spend Title I funds.

The problem she says is that:

Under current law, those Title I schools that do not operate schoolwide programs must demonstrate that every single thing they buy with Title I funds helps only the neediest students, and would not be purchased with other funds absent the federal aid. In my research, I’ve found this rule often has the unintended consequence of preventing districts from spending money on the things that might help those students most, pushing schools to work around the edges of their central instructional mission. They buy “interventionists” instead of teachers, or “supplemental” curricular materials rather than “core” ones, and are discouraged from investing Title I funds in technology.

Gordon is correct that the supplement not supplant has been a disaster.  As I wrote in The Congressional Failure to Enforce Equal Protection Through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 90 B.U. L. Rev. 313 (2010),

Although well meaning, the prohibition on supplanting has not met its goal. In fact, in a recent report, the GAO recommended eliminating the supplement-not-supplant standard altogether. The GAO concluded that the standard has become almost impossible to enforce. Enforcing the standard requires too much speculation about what a school district would have spent on education and also requires extremely detailed tracking of spending in thousands of school districts. In short, the prohibition on supplanting funds relies on unreliable projections and unusually labor-intensive work. Possibly for these reasons, the Department of Education has effectively stopped attempting to enforce the standard, treating it as a non-priority. The standard, however, remains the law and a measure that well-intentioned schools may expend effort attempting to meet.

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April 24, 2015 in ESEA/NCLB, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spending Less on the Students Who Need the Most

After a relative long hiatus, the Education Trust has issued a new comprehensive school funding study.  Its 2006 study drew criticism, in part, for its simplicity.  The new report adds more nuance to the analysis.  It finds that:

  • Nationally, the highest poverty school districts receive about 10 percent less per student in state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts.
  • School districts serving the most students of color nationwide receive roughly 15 percent less per student in state and local funding than those serving the fewest.
  • There is a great deal of variation between states when it comes to funding equity: While some states provide more funding to their highest poverty districts and to districts serving the most students of color, others provide substantially less.

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April 22, 2015 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)