Category Archives: Reference and education

How Mighty Is the Pen? The Dire Problem of Education Finance

School funding in the U.S. is essentially unfair and inequitable. In a society in which it is nearly impossible to advance without a good education, in which education has become a civil right of man, it would be wrong to deny any child quality education.

We cannot logically expect our children to advance in society that will not give them the money they need to get a decent education. And even after primary and secondary education, it makes no sense to put the poor in college debt when they were already given less opportunities to get into that college than the rich. Making college so expensive continues to burden the poor and when the time comes, their children are put in this cycle. This violates the original intentions of American life, giving equal opportunity for all.

Why are there so many struggles placed on those who work hard? Currently systems are based on a revenue limit, meaning districts provide money for schools depending on property wealth of the school. School finance should be given based on the current wealth for one family and society, more finance on the less fortunate and vice versa. If this cycle of giving less to the less fortunate continues, it will create a socioeconomic gap that hurts quality of education, teacher fold, and school ranking.

School funding works at three different levels: local, state, and federal. Federal funding is minimal for lack of educational clauses in the constitution, while state governments are the sole voice in taking control of financing. Yet instead, local funding has shown to be the most domineering and main source for school funding. This has become a problem because local funding depends on property wealth, and property wealth widely varies within city and district. Cities that suffer from a predisposition of “poorness” get poorer the funding. Those schools are stuck in the ditch of debt and are unable to escape due this revenue-limit system.

As well as the federal and state funding level needing repair, the local and district division is also issue. Districts may be considered the smallest unit of funding, but funding inequality is prevalent within districts too. This disparity is exemplified in the rising differences among schools in material and teacher quality. Teachers get paid more in low poverty districts and as a result compete for those jobs. Consequently, high-poverty districts suffer from a shortage of teachers, lower quality teachers, and a high turnover rate. And in our current system, schools finance judgments are per-teacher-based, so high-poverty schools are unable to receive the aid they need because of surface teacher salaries. Schools instead should be given enough money in a per-student system rather than per-teacher system in effort to increase output per student.

Renowned economist and critic Eric Hanushek addresses the finances of education issue in his novel Courting Failure. In his novel, he explores and discovers the correlation that low student performance indicated inadequate funding. It is precisely this situation that shows children’s right to adequate and equal education cannot be pursued if do not fix the underlying problems, such as that of public funding state levels need to provide a safety net for the schools of their region. States can do so by providing more to the less-wealthy and less the more-wealthy. Yet while doing this, they must make sure the funding level is high enough that all these schools can function properly, instead of the “minimum” levels they currently adopt.

Hanushek also questions the term “adequacy”, the current national requirement for school education. Strikingly, 28 states have been ruled unconstitutional in this area. States assert minimal education standards that no reasonable people would consider acceptable. Adequacy’s violations can be visualized if we imagine fully efficient public school and an actual public school or what society believes students should learn and what they actually learn. The space between these two ideas is incredible and throw off all vouches for adequacy. This gap comes from how finance calculations are made, typically through teacher-salary, lack of inclusion for more expensive students (e.g. English language learners), and different standards of adequate funding. We need to stop resorting to traditional terms of what is “sufficient” and instead adopt concrete definitions needed to give real standards to schools so they can be efficiently and thoroughly funded.

Another widely claimed label is “equity”, the idea to distribute resources equally throughout schools in a state. If we are to allow all students equal opportunity in school quality and ranking, this distribution should be done in a way that lessens the differences ranging across school districts’ abilities to raise funds. Lawsuits claim that such is a violation of the “equity” principle, that poor districts should not get more money than rich districts, but if we do not help or nurture those in need, we are raising them for unequal chances and opportunities for their future lives. Indeed, it is necessary to limit the poorness of these districts.

Studies suggest this inequality can be reduced by transferring more of responsibility of funding from local to state. Well respected Californian finance reform advocate, Arun Ramanathan, proposes a plan to better state-wide academic funding.

1) Instead of a revenue-limit formula, adopt a student weighted formula.
2) Ensure that school funding gets allocated directly towards students.
3) Require districts to clearly show district and school level spending
4) Monitor correlation of financial inputs and academic results. Ensure that those who need special help get the help they need.

A plan similar to the one Ramanathan proposed was implemented in Colorado recently. The plan itself calculates the difference that state funding has to make up for local funding to be equal throughout the state. The idea is that if the districts can raise more from local taxes, the state does not have to make up the difference if the locals make less. The new finance act makes sure to have expenditures visible and comparable for the public, allowing for direct regulation of financial reform. The plan also accounts for those who qualify for reduced-lunch and ESL learners. By diving 20-40% more money toward those students, the financial system balances giving all students equal opportunity. Using these plans, Coloradans have begun showing improving trends in educational finance.