Pennsylvania has sent its plan for “ensuring equitable access to excellent teachers for all students” to the US Department of Education as it, along with other states, continues to combat inequity in the education system.
The Education Law Center in Newark, N.J., advocates for equal education opportunity, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund in Washington, D.C., which promotes human and civil rights, joined to release two reports on the need for fair school funding. Eleanor Chute, writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, says the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission in Pennsylvania is to report this week on how the state will establish a fair school funding formula.
One report is titled “Cheating Our Future: How Decades of Disinvestment by States Jeopardizes Equal Educational Opportunity.” The other is the fourth annual national report card by the Education Law Center on fairness of school funding.
Taking into account state and local public school spending, Pennsylvania got an A for effort in 2010, 2011, and 2012. But when it comes to how the money was distributed, Pennsylvania earned grades of D in 2012 and 2010 and an F in 2011.
This is because poorer schools are getting less funding than wealthier schools. In 2012, schools with the least amount of poverty averaged $14,588 per pupil, and those with the highest amount of poverty averaged $13,285. Not only that, but Pennsylvania is one of seven states with more students per teacher in high-poverty areas than in low-poverty districts.
The joint report revealed inequities across the country. According to the reports:
“In a time of economic growth and rising state and federal revenue, we are leaving the nation’s most vulnerable public school children behind.”
The federal government wants to know how states will ensure that children living in poverty will not be taught by teachers who are inexperienced, unqualified, or teaching subjects outside their area of expertise.
Students in New York, the highest-spending state in the country, receive around $12,000 more annually than students in Idaho, the lowest-spending state in the US. The reports add, writes Emma Brown of The Washington Post, that many states were spending less on education in 2012 than in 2008 as related to the states’ overall economic productivity.
“School funding decisions are one of the sleeper civil rights issues of our time,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Leadership Conference Education Fund. “The evidence from across the country is clear and compelling: Our nation must dramatically change the way that educational resources are distributed so that there is true equity in America’s classrooms.”
In the 1973 Supreme Court case San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, justices ruled that it was legal for state school funding formulas to be based on local property taxes. This decision was made in spite of the fact that doing so resulted in unequal resources from district to district. At the same time, the court ruled that a federal constitutional right to an education did not exist.
The reports explain that, according to the Southern Education Foundation, children from low-income families are now the majority in US public schools.
CivilRights.org posted findings from “Cheating our Future.” Students in rural and urban, high-poverty areas lack similar access, as their peers in better-funded systems, to the same academic programs, before- and after-school programs, extracurricular activities, education facilities, well-qualified teachers and administration, transportation, and more. Information from the National Report Card revealed that 14 states have what is called “regressive” school funding, meaning that these states provide fewer dollars to school districts with a higher concentration of poor students.
“The nation as a whole, this report shows, is failing to provide the resources our students need,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. It covers the nation’s 49 million K-12 students in public schools.
According to Renee Schoof of the Sun Herald, the report included four measures: how states deal with per-student spending; how funding distribution is established; the amount of “effort” the state is making to spend on education as compared with the states overall economic situation; and establishing the proportion of kids in public schools and the income differences between those in public schools and private schools.
“Fairness” in the reports means meeting all students’ needs and supplying additional funding for high-poverty schools. Also, since teachers salaries are the highest dollar item on school budgets, a fair-funding system must be in place to provide an equal distribution of high-quality teachers in all districts.