By Amanda Litvinov
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In 1954, the Supreme Court declared that education “must be made available to all on equal terms.” But as the 2015-16 school year begins, millions of low-income and minority students still attend schools that are funded at significantly lower levels than schools in wealthier neighborhoods that serve more white students.
When it comes to school finance problems, it seems the more things change the more they stay the same.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (2003 – 2011) took a run at addressing inequities in the state’s school finance formula, starting with a study of needs in disadvantaged school districts. Then he somehow managed to get the legislature to pass a new progressive school funding formula in 2008. But just as it was starting to make a difference, Gov. Tom Corbett took office in 2012 and threw out the new formula, returning to regressive funding and slash and burn policies that continue to hurt students in Pennsylvania’s poorer areas.
Today, Gov. Tom Wolf is fighting not only to increase school funding overall, but to improve the equity among Pennsylvania’s districts, facing an even worse political climate than Gov. Rendell.
In 1992, the Kansas legislature passed landmark legislation to improve the adequacy and equity of its school finance formula. But it has been so chronically underfunded over the ensuing decades, that the courts have once again gotten involved, ruling most recently that school funding in Kansas is “inadequate by any rational perspective.”
In response, Gov. Sam Brownback discarded the formula altogether to make room for a block grant system that leaves schools wondering how much funding they will have to work with from year to year.
3. The call for equity in school funding nationwide
Forty years ago, a federal commission documented the deep inequities that existed in the states’ school funding systems.
In 2013 another federal panel—the Equity and Excellence Commission—released “For Each and Every Child,” which identified the need for equitable school funding as one of five areas of focus for improving education for low-income children:
The time has come for bold action by the states—and the federal government—to redesign and reform the funding of our nation’s public schools. Achieving equity and excellence requires sufficient resources that are distributed based on student need, not zip code…
Find out more about chronic problems affecting state school finance systems: