Tuesday, December 16, 2014
In an Op-Ed the Philadelphia Inquirer, Secretary Duncan weighed in on funding inequity in Pennsylvania and the nation in general. He wrote, "until some glaring funding injustices are fixed, in Philadelphia and in many school systems around the country, we will never live up to our nation's aspirational promises of justice." He cited heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund education as the source of our problems. The result, he said, is to make the quality of education dependent on geography, which disparately impacts the highest need, lowest-income students. "The key to a fair funding formula is quite simple: Target aid to students who need it most, and adjust current levels of state aid to the districts that are already well supported," he wrote.
This is welcome commentary to school funding advocates and scholars. It mimics what they have said for decades. Duncan penned a similarly welcome Op-Ed on school segregation a year ago. Unfortunately, although there are exceptions, Duncan's activity on these issues has larger been confined to op-eds. In the last year, the Department has issued helpful policy guidance on both issues, but that guidance only came after several years of charters, curriculum, and teacher reform. Those latter agendas might be useful, but none of them touch fundamental inequalities in regard to funding and race. In other words, op-eds and stated intentions to begin tacking discrimination pale in comparison to what the Secretary has done in other areas.
One might excuse the Secretary on race (although I do not) because of the tight rope the Supreme Court requires him to walk, but the failure to address school funding inequity begs the question of what the Department's purpose is. Title I of the ESEA--probably the most important piece of legislation the Department oversees--was designed as a remedy to resource inequity and segregation in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then it has drifted far from its mission. Scholars and advocates have documented its numerous flaws and proposed reasonable solutions. Those solutions, nor anything approximating them, have been found in any of the Secretary's recommendations for reauthorizing Title I or his competitive grant programs.