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.

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