Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Linking Special Education Funding to Poverty

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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

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

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

Download the full article here.

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

California Court Finds That Teacher Tenure Rights Violate Students Rights

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

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

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

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

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

The Complete Privitization of Public Education in Delaware? Not Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Cautionary Tale: How Money Is Spent Matters

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rhode Island Rejects School Funding Challenge

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

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Funding Inequity Lawsuits Filed Against New Mexico

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

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

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Transcending Equality Versus Adequacy

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Governor Christie Moves Backwards on Nation's Most Progressive Funding Formula

As a result of the Abbott v. Burke litigation, New Jersey has consistently had the most progressive funding formula in the nation, meaning that the state drives the highest funding to the neediest school districts.  Governor Christie has decided to abandon the progressive funding formula for the 2014-15 school year.  Moreover, in the notice of change sent to districts, Christie did not indicate how the state aid would be allocated in the absence of this formula.  The Education Law Center, in papers filed with the Supreme Court of New Jersey, assert that the Governer's failure to fund the formula violates 2009 and 2011 rulings by the court:

In the 2009 ruling, the Court allowed the State to implement the SFRA, but only if the State operated the formula from year-to-year at its "optimal level."  In 2011, the Court, in ordering the Governor to restore $500 million in funding cut from urban districts, again ordered the State to keep the formula running properly in future years. In both rulings, the Court made crystal clear that the State has a continuing obligation to operate the formula every year to ensure all students the resources they need for a constitutional, "thorough and efficient" education.

The ELC's full press release is here.  Its supreme court brief is here.


March 31, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Does U.S. Department of Education Care About Funding Fairness?

The U.S. Department of Education's appointment of the Equity and Excellence Commission in 2010 and the release of its report For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence last spring would indicate a serious interest in funding fairness.  This Commission also fell on the heels of the Department seeking authority to collect far more information on school funding than it ever had before.  But if one's seriousness is measured by where one puts its money, the Education Law Center's studies suggest that the Department is anything but serious.  

In the past four years, the Department has given out billions of dollars in competitive grants through its Race to the Top initiative.  Those grants, ironically, have routinely gone to states ranking the worst in terms of funding fairness. As the Education Law Center pointed out just over a year ago, all of those grants in 2012 went to states that had serious deficiencies in their school funding formulas.  One might defend those grants as attempts to help those states that need it the most.  After all, I and Goodwin Liu have advocated for federal funding formulas that help needy states or incentivize effort.  These grants, however, do not achieve that.  The Education Law Center's reports factor in several different aspects of school funding before assigning a state a final grade.  For instance, they assess how hard a state is trying to fund education and how equitably a state distributes its funding, even if those funds are meager.  In other words, when a state ranks poorly on the Education Law Center's report cards, there is not much positive that can be said for the state.  Giving grants to those states begs the question of whether school funding fairness is really a priority for the Department of Education.


March 21, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

School Finance Litigation Across Decades and the Health of Funding Systems

Christine Kiracofe's latest article, Serial and Second Generation School Finance Litigation: 2000-13, 299 Ed. Law Rep. 1 (2014), accomplishes what I have tried to encourage law students to do in seminar and law review articles for the past decade: assess the impact of school finance decisions by comparing the evolution of the precedent and student outcomes in individual states. Prof. Kiracofe's article focuses on two categories of school finance litigation: a) what she calls "serial" litigation, meaning "petitioners repeatedly return to court over a significant period of time … litigation in some of these cases is seemingly endless, and may result in little change … and even then perhaps only in small increments;" and b) "second generation" litigation, which means "plaintiffs secured a victory at court only to have circumstances change over subsequent years that once again render a system of funding public schools unconstitutional."

She then looks at how these states have fared on the Education Law Center's school funding fairness reports.  She finds that "[m]any of the states that have experienced second generation and/or serial litigation over the past ten years earn favorable marks on the Education Law Center's recent National Report Card study. While it is impossible to draw a direct correlation between state school finance litigation and funding system health using the National Report Card measure alone, this data is promising for funding change advocates who will undoubtedly be involved in the litigation process for a significant amount of time."

The article is interesting in its own right, but also provides a good starting point for students who may want to dig deeper in terms of their own state or region.

March 13, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

School Funding Victory for Kansas Students

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the state's long-running finance litigation,  Gannon v. State.  Last week, the Court upheld the lower court's ruling, writing:

As for the capital outlay funding claims, we hold the panel correctly ruled that the
State created unconstitutional, wealth-based disparities by withholding all capital outlay
state aid payments to which certain school districts were otherwise entitled under K.S.A.
2012 Supp. 72-8814(c). We additionally hold the panel correctly refused to order
payment of capital outlay state aid to which districts were otherwise entitled for fiscal
year 2010. We further hold that the panel correctly ruled that the State created
unconstitutional, wealth-based disparities by prorating the supplemental general state aid
payments to which certain districts were entitled under K.S.A. 2012 Supp. 72-6434 for
their local option budgets.

It did find, however, that the lower court had applied the wrong legal standard in determining whether the state was violating students' rights to an adequate education, and remanded on that point.

Overall, the case reads as a huge victory for the plaintiffs (see the Education Law Center's analysis), although the state is claiming some solace in the flexibility the opinion potentially affords it.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Half of Nation's Schools in Need of Repair

The National Center on Education Statistics has released Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 2012-13.  Based on survey responses the report found that

53 percent of public schools needed to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations to put the school’s onsite buildings in good overall condition. The total amount needed was estimated to be approximately $197 billion, and the average dollar amount for schools needing to spend money was about $4.5 million per school. Among schools needing to spend, the cost estimate was based on the best professional judgment of the survey respondent in 57 percent of the schools; on facilities inspection(s)/assessment(s) performed within the last 3 years by licensed professionals in 44 percent of the schools; and on a capital improvement/facilities master plan, schedule, or budget in 42 percent of the schools.

Moreover, 5 to 17 percent of the schools "were rated as unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory" in terms of environmental factors.  As NPR put it, our school buildings are in no better shape than our bridges.

March 10, 2014 in School Funding, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Obama's 2015 Equity Initiative: Quality Teachers, Funding Fairness, School Climate, and Concentrated Poverty

Notwithstanding all the claims that the President's budget is dead on arrival, his new budget is important in the policies and values it is putting forward, particularly since this President has shown his ability to push his policies administratively, even when Congress does not act. The 2015 budget includes "a new initiative called Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity (RTT-Opportunity), which would create incentives for states and school districts to drive comprehensive change in how states and districts identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps."  The initiative focuses on the equitable distribution of school funding, hiring quality teachers, and improving school climate.  Tagged on at the end is a new message from the President:  "identify and carry out strategies that help break up and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty."  It is unclear whether the President intends to promote integration strategies, try to make separate equal, or both.  The President's own description of his plan states:

 Grantees would enhance their data systems to place a sharp focus on the districts, schools, and student groups with the greatest disparities in opportunity and performance, while also being able to identify the most effective interventions. They would develop thoughtful, comprehensive strategies for addressing these gaps, and use the data to continuously evaluate progress. Grantees would invest in strong teaching and school leadership, using funds to develop, attract, and retain more effective teachers and leaders in high-need schools, through strategies such as individualized professional learning and career ladder opportunities.

States would collect data on school-level expenditures, make that data transparent and easily accessible, and use it to improve the effectiveness of resources and support continuous program improvement. Participating districts would be required to ensure that their state and local funds are distributed fairly by implementing a more meaningful comparability standard based on this school-level expenditure data.

RTT-Opportunity funds also would be used, for example, to provide rigorous coursework; improve school climate and safety; strengthen students’ non-cognitive skills; develop and implement fair and appropriate school discipline policies; expand learning time, provide mental, physical, and social emotional supports; expand college and career counseling; and identify and carry out strategies that help break up and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty.

March 5, 2014 in Equity in education, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

School Districts Secede, Increasing Finance Inequality and Segregation

The resegregation of public schools over the past two and a half decades is not news to most of the readers of this blog.  Numerous reports demonstrate that our public schools are now as racially and socioeconomically segregated as they were when mandatory desegregation began in earnest in the early 1970s.  What may be news is the new trend of "school district secession."  Historically, many of the most effective school desegregation plans covered large school districts in metropolitan areas. Now that those districts have been released from court ordered desegregation, smaller wealthier neighborhoods are attempting to secede from their districts to form their own independent and isolated schools.  Businesweek reports:

In Alabama, which makes it relatively easy to create districts, two Birmingham suburbs have left the countywide system in the past two years. After the majority-black Memphis schools merged last year with the majority-white county district, Tennessee's Republican-dominated legislature lifted a decades-old ban on creating new systems, and six suburbs seceded, approving sales tax increases to pay for their schools. Parent groups in Atlanta and Dallas are considering similar proposals.

A similar move is being pushed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a parent leader of secession comments that "We are tired of basically being a cash cow for the rest of the parish."  If secession occurs, per pupil spending in the Baton Rouge district would drop from $9,635 to $8,870.  The new affluent district would have per pupil expenditures of  $11,686.  In other words, secession would create a $2,000 per pupil gap overnight.  In an average elementary school, this would be the difference of nearly a $1,000,000 a year.

This trend raises important causal questions.  Are these secession movements the lingering effects of school systems that never became substantively unitary?  Are they the result of the "invidious value" that Kevin Brown argues segregation fostered and integration never cured?  (See Has the Supreme Court Allowed the Cure for De Jure Segregation to Replicate the Disease?, 78 Cornell L. Rev. 1 (1992)).  Or are they the result of bringing market ideas to public schools and fomenting the idea that education, rather than a public good, is consumer resource?  I would suspect the trend stems from all three.  In so far as it is connected to the third, it also demonstrates my point in Charters Schools, Voucher, and the Public Good, where I argue that charters and vouchers are not inherently good or bad.  Rather, they are the policies through which good or bad values can flow (most often bad at the moment).  But laws permitting school district secession allow these same bad values to flow through traditional public schools.

For Jan Resseger's analysis of the trend, see here.


March 5, 2014 in Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

School Funding Versus Prison Funding: Forty Years Later

Last year, Kimberly Robinson organized a conference on the 40th anniversary of San Antonio v. Rodriguez.  A collected works book arising out of that conference will be published soon with Yale University Press.  A few law review articles from the conference were also recently published with the Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest.  Links to those articles are here.  Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is included among those authors.  He wrote The Implications of San Antonio Independent Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 17 Rich. J.L. & Pub. Int. 515 (2014).  The article offers a lot of then versus now comparisons, but of particular note, given his criminal justice expertise, is a section on school funding versus prison funding.  He writes:

Despite the steps that have been taken to reduce the funding inequalities between poor and wealth school districts, there has yet to be a diminution in one other important funding disparity: that between prison spending and education spending. State criminal corrections spending has outpaced growth in spending on education, transportation, and public assistance,  and, after adjusting for inflation, state spending on criminal correction has tripled over the past three decades and has become the fasting-growing budgetary expense after Medicaid.  Indeed, according to a review of data from the Department of Justice and the National Education Association, many states spend three to four times more per capita on incarceration than on education. California, the most populous state in the union, spends about $47,000 per inmate while spending approximately $9,000 per student.  New York spends roughly $56,000 per prisoner and about $16,000 for its students, while Georgia and Michigan each spend about a third of the amount on their public school students as they do on their prison populations. 

The same dichotomy between criminal corrections spending and public school spending can be found between criminal corrections spending and higher education spending. Research has shown that, adjusting for inflation, over the twenty-year period from 1987 to 2007 states' corrections spending grew more than the six times more than spending on higher education.  Regionally, the differences between higher education and prison spending were more pronounced. During the same time period, inflation-adjusted prison spending in the Northeast rose sixty-one percent while higher education spending in the region dropped 5.5 percent. In the West, the amount of money allotted to prisons grew 205 percent while money spent on postsecondary education only grew twenty-eight percent. Analysis on the spending disparity between prison and higher education at the state reveals an even more staggering divide. In 2011, California's postsecondary education received thirteen percent less inflation-adjusted dollars than in 1980 while criminal corrections received a 436 percent expansion in funding during the same period. 

In all, the growth in state spending on prisons and criminal corrections has outpaced the growth in education spending. However, unlike the push for funding parity between rich school districts and poor school districts that occurred during the aftermath of Rodriguez, there does not seem to be a concerted, serious push to reverse the trend of the growth in prison spending outpacing the growth in education spending. The policy discussion surrounding the growth in funding of incarceration and education presents a zero-sum proposition, because, unlike the federal government, most states have to balance their budgets. As a result, a dollar spent in one area is a dollar that can no longer be spent in another. The effects of this decision could have significant consequences for the future of the children from poor areas whom Rodriguez litigation aimed to benefit and who have benefitted from the education funding cases post-Rodriguez litigation. Children from low-income areas are at a distinct disadvantage when increases in prison spending result in slower growth or a reduction in education spending. Research has shown that significant concentrations of people going to prison came from poor neighborhoods of color, and in these neighborhoods millions of dollars are being spent to incarcerate its residents. As a result, money spent on incarceration is often the predominant public investment in those communities while education opportunities are dwindling with repeated budget cuts. According to researchers, completing school is a critical protective factor for adolescents who come from troubled neighborhoods. Yet, money is diverted from this resource to incarceration, preventing low-income youth in many areas of the country from having quality access to an effective tool for betterment.

February 20, 2014 in School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Towards a Theory of Equitable Federated Regionalism in Public Education

Erika Wilson's new article, Towards a Theory of Equitable Federated Regionalism in Public Education, is forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review.  The article is aimed at addressing the longstanding problem of inequity and segregation across school district lines, which were sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley and San Antonio v. Rodriguez.  Wilson says the problems are further exacerbated by the "a strong ideological preference for localism" in state education laws that "do not require or even encourage collaboration between school districts in order to address disparities between neighboring school districts."  Thus, she calls for a reconsideration of "the wholesale commitment to localism in public education" and argues that, "in some instances, the dissemination of public education should be made on a regional basis rather than a local basis. [Her article] examines how enacting regionalism — a theoretical framework, which advocates for the installment of regional governance structures — might occur in public education. Borrowing from two specific theories of regionalism, equitable regionalism and federated regionalism, [her article] proposes a framework entitled 'Equitable Federated Regionalism' for disseminating public education on a regional basis."  

This new article builds on her prior work, Leveling Localism and Racial Inequality in Education Through the No Child Left Behind Act Public Choice Provision, 44 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 625 (2011).  Both works are insightful attempts to push us beyond old ways of thinking.  They are fit nicely with both positive and negative developments in a few localities.  Consider Omaha, Nebraska's cooperative school district zones, which suggests Wilson's proposals are more than feasible.  Or consider the current school transfer provision in Missouri that is wreaking havoc on both accredited and unaccredited school districts.  Wilson's proposals might offer a far more orderly means of dealing with the problems there.  The same is true of the problems that will follow the rise of parent triggers, school closures, and the like in other localities.  

February 18, 2014 in Equity in education, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Using Students' Education Rights to Fire Teachers?

I am a little behind the times on this one, but a group of nine students, represented by Ted Olsen, are challenging the constitutionality of California statutes that grant teachers permanent employment status after 18 months of service, that create several procedural hurdles to dismissing ineffective teachers, and that elevate seniority above teaching effectiveness in layoff decisions. Their theory is that, per school finance precedent, education is a fundamental right in California and students are guaranteed equal educational opportunity, but statutes that keep ineffective teachers in place violates that right by subjecting students to subpar educational opportunity.

Given the malleability of the concepts of education as a fundamental right or a constitutional right to adequate education, there are few inequities or impediments that are beyond constitutional challenge.  I myself have made arguments leveraging that precedent beyond just money (student assignments, school discipline, and the like).  This suit, however, goes a bit further in that it assumes the problem is the teachers rather than a system that is incapable of attracting, retaining, training, or developing effective teachers.  Their facts just as easily lend themselves to a claim on behalf of the districts with ineffective teacher against the state, charging that they lack the resources to hire teachers that are already effective or improve the ones who are not yet effective.  This lawsuit assumes that these are inherently bad teachers and that there are others waiting in the wing to take their place. I am not sure either assumption is true.  With that said, I am generally sympathetic to the notion that schools and the state should be more interventionist in controlling the placement, hiring and retention of teachers.  I am just not sure that this lawsuit is the best way to get us there.

For more details on the lawsuit from the plaintiffs' perspective, see here.  For the complaint, see here.


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