By Valerie Strauss
Dec 11, 2014 – Many school reformers today like to say that “money doesn’t matter” in making schools work and that holding students and teachers more “accountable” — largely through standardized test scores — is what is needed.
Certainly a great deal of money can be used poorly but that is not the same thing as money doesn’t matter. It is, however, a good mantra for people who want to ignore the severe and consequential funding inequities that persist in the U.S. public education system across the United States.
According to this 2013 report on school funding by the Education Law Center:
In fiscal year 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, state governments, on average, funded 43.5 percent, or $259.8 billion, of the total amount spent on public education. School districts and other local sources were responsible, on average, for almost 44 percent of all public school spending or $261.6 billion. The federal government, on average, provided almost 13 percent of the total revenue received by public schools, or $75.9 billion.
With most of the money coming from state and local sources, disparities are inevitable, especially because in most places local sources are dependent on property taxes, meaning that poor areas have less money to spend on schools. Federal money given to low-income areas doesn’t close the gap.
So how inequitable can school funding be within a single state? Let’s look at one of the most troubled in this respect, Pennsylvania.
Here’s some testimony from Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, given to a public hearing of the Basic Education Funding Commission in Pennsylvania about school funding:
Pennsylvania’s system of funding schools is a failure by every criterion: equity, adequacy, predictability, fairness. Too many students in too many schools are unable to meet state standards of what children should know and be able to do. Too few are going on to college or are prepared for well paying jobs. No one is responsible to calculate how much it will cost districts to provide the necessary instruction and support. The inequity of the system is glaring: the amount of public resources spent on preparing a child to succeed in the adult world varies from $9,000 to $27,000 a year, which is a quarter of a million dollars difference over a school career from K to 12th grade. But it is not only unfair to children, it is unfair to taxpayers where the tax burden can vary from the equivalent of 8 to 36 equalized mills of tax effort for homes with the same value. And in the ultimate insult, the districts bearing the highest tax burdens frequently have less dollars to spend on their students than districts with tax burdens half the amount.
The reasons for these multiple failures are simple:
1. Too few state dollars result in too high reliance on local dollars;
2. The system does not take into account how much it costs to educate children.
3. State dollars are distributed on a basis which does not reflect the tax effort of the district.