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By Amanda Litvinov / photo by Anthony Iezzi
We know the strategies that help close achievement gaps: Lower class sizes. A broad curriculum. Attraction and retention of highly qualified teachers.
But these strategies are unobtainable without stable, adequate, and equitable funding. And that’s an approach to closing achievement gaps that we’ve never really tried says Bruce D. Baker, a professor in the Department of Educational Theory, Policy, and Administration in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University.
Baker is routinely frustrated by the pundits and policymakers who claim that America “pours money into failing schools.” We don’t, and we haven’t.
That’s the first thing you should know about school funding.
1. “The data show that we’ve never provided sustained, adequate, and equitable funding in any of our disadvantaged communities,” says Baker. Too often, promising efforts on the part of one administration or elected body are abandoned after the next election cycle. And short-term funding improvements just don’t move the dial for struggling schools.
Here are 4 more truths about school funding:
2. Two-thirds of voters believe states should close tax loopholes before considering any cuts to public education. Some of our nation’s most profitable corporations pay less in state and federal income taxes than the average working family. And that means the loss of hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars that pay for essentials like roads, bridges, emergency services, and schools.
3. The needs of poorly funded districts are not met by federal programs like Title I and IDEA. Federal funding makes up only about 10 percent of all school funding. Federal education programs, while incredibly important, have simply never been funded at levels that would move the dial on eradicating inequities. Ultimately, it’s up to the states to equitably finance their schools.
4. No punitive evaluation system has ever been shown to make a dent in achievement gaps–but improving state school finance systems has. Money does matter. And more equitable distribution of funding can improve outcomes through targeted, sustained spending in high-needs schools, as studies of school finance reforms in the 1990s in Michigan, Kansas, and Massachusetts show.
5. A court ruling in favor of increasing school funding doesn’t automatically bring relief for underfunded schools. Although such court cases do put pressure on state legislatures to address inadequate school funding, they do not necessarily make those funding systems more equitable. It is up to voters to hold elected leaders accountable for addressing inequity in school funding.