Learning Policy Institute: 50 years after Kerner Commission, school funding in many states is “profoundly unfair”

"Those most disadvantaged by this enduring failure are millions of children from low-income families and children of color, especially those in high-poverty, racially isolated communities."

Chair of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Otto Kerner with President Lyndon Johnson. image courtesy of Michigan Radio.

School funding in many states is “profoundly unfair” and not allocated to the students and districts that need it most, according to a report from the Learning Policy Institute. Here’s an excerpt:

Fifty years after the Kerner Commission warned of a nation divided, school funding remains profoundly unfair and inequitable in most states, shortchanging students across the country. Those most disadvantaged by this enduring failure are millions of children from low-income families and children of color, especially those in high-poverty, racially isolated communities.

In the United States, public education is a state obligation. The states, through their finance systems, account for approximately 90% of all education funding in local districts and schools.

Every day in schools across America, the lack of funding deprives students of the qualified teachers, support staff, academic interventions, full-day kindergarten, early education, and other programs they need to be successful in school. Unfair school funding remains entrenched in most states, as it has for decades, impeding efforts to improve outcomes for students, especially poor children, those learning English, and students with disabilities…

For our students, this is not about dollars. Funding levels determine whether effective teachers, Advanced Placement classes, guidance counselors, extra learning time, and other essential resources are available in the nation’s classrooms. In states with unfair funding, children are less likely to have access to preschool, pupil-to-teacher ratios are higher, and wages for teachers are not competitive with other comparably skilled professions. The chronic and severe underfunding of public education is behind the wave of teacher strikes and walkouts now sweeping across the nation.

The sad fact is most states still fund schools the old-fashioned way. Lawmakers decide how much they’re willing to spend, usually based on last year’s budget, and then distribute funding to satisfy powerful political constituencies. Only a handful have enacted finance reforms driven by the actual cost of basic education resources, including the cost of supports for struggling students and other interventions crucial in high-need schools.

In many states, elected officials staunchly resist school funding reform, even in the face of court orders, as is now the case in Kansas. Governors in Colorado, Texas, and Connecticut have fought funding lawsuits rather than use the courts to leverage action by recalcitrant lawmakers.

Unfair school funding is a major reason why our nation remains segregated, separate, and unequal a half century after the Kerner Commission issued its call to action. It’s time to put this issue at the top of the national education agenda.

The Kerner Commission, a presidential commission formed in 1967, provided recommendations to ease racial tensions and prevent riots in various cities. Among the Committee’s recommendations was a revision of state aid formulas to assure more per student aid to districts having a high proportion of disadvantaged school-age children. The Commission’s recommendations are often used as guidance in addressing achievement gaps among students in poverty, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable student populations.

In New Hampshire, each district receives $3,636 in base state funding. Districts receive additional “differentiated aid” for students that qualify for certain programs, including special education, Free and Reduced Lunch, and English Language Learners.

Those figures adjust every two years for inflation (including the base adequacy), but all other changes must be initiated from and voted on by the state legislature. There is currently a legislative committee that meets monthly to examine the funding formula, and how it can be revised to better meet the needs of the state. Recommendations for changes are expected in November 2018.

The state ranks 11th in total education funding, but that includes the amount that each town or city contributes to the formula from local property taxes. The average per-pupil cost in New Hampshire is about $15,000, and districts must make up the difference between the adequacy amount and the actual cost through local taxes.

Some education advocates, including attorney John Tobin, argue that by not providing a more substantial portion of the cost, the state is creating an inequitable system that is burdensome to both taxpayers and schools.

Learn more about the school funding formula in the state, its effect on student outcomes, and more:

Source: School Funding: Deep Disparities Persist 50 Years After Kerner | The Learning Policy Institute