According to a Quality Counts study, New Hampshire ranked in the bottom five for equity in education, partly due to the over-reliance on local funding for schools. School funding experts argue that simply more money may not solve the problem of inequity, but targeting high-needs schools with additional resources, which would allow for more programming and supports, can help bridge the gap between disadvantaged students.
Can more money make up for the effects of poverty in schools?
School finance experts increasingly say yes. But states will have to distribute their money much differently between schools and districts than they do today, with a more complex approach to fiscal equity than simple funding levels.
Civil rights activists historically have pushed for states to spend the same amount of tax dollars in wealthier and poorer school districts, a legally and politically fraught goal that’s led to the leveling of spending in states such as Florida and Wyoming.
But a growing number of school finance experts now conclude that states should, instead, spend based on need. In other words, schools with heavier concentrations of poverty, and therefore greater academic needs, should get more money than schools where the majority of students’ parents are wealthy.
“People are starting to understand that equal funding for unequal needs isn’t fair,” said Ary Amerikaner, a deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama. She now serves as the director of P-12 resource equity at the Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income children and students of color. “It’s not fair or evidence-based and it’s not going to get us the returns on investments that we hope to see every time we spend a dollar on education…”
The most recent nationwide study of school spending trends by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that focuses on reducing fiscal inequality, shows districts have become increasingly more reliant on local tax revenue than on state tax revenue, a reversal of a decades-long trend driven by a series of statewide income and business tax cuts and rising health-care costs. This heavy reliance on local revenue can lead to more disparities between wealthy and poor districts since most local revenue is dependent on local property values, said Michael Leachman, the director of state fiscal research for the organization.
Most state funding formulas aim for proportional funding among all districts throughout a state, based on student enrollment. For property-poor districts, states kick in extra money to make sure the funding is even. [Note: New Hampshire does not award additional funds simply to make the funding “even,” but it awards additional an additional amount for students with disabilities, students eligible for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program, English Language Learners, and more.]
But a meta-analysis of school finance studies conducted for Maryland’s education department in 2015 concluded that as concentrations of poverty increase in schools and districts, “so, too, do the types and numbers of services required to enable all students to be successful.”
That leaves policymakers with some complicated spending choices.
“The money does matter,” said Carlee Escue Simon, the executive director of the National Education Finance Academy and a school finance expert at the University of Cincinnati. “But the money needs to go to effective resources such as intervention specialists, school psychologists, and social-emotional needs…”
Although school funding experts laud politicians for considering giving extra weight based on poverty levels at schools, they’ve raised concerns that states are now setting the bare minimum amount schools get much lower and counting on extra funding to make up for it.
“The additional weights should be additional supports, but the funding is what makes it work,” said Escue Simon of the University of Cincinnati. “If the base allocation is not high enough, some districts that have populations that have fewer needs are going to feel they’re not being treated very fairly because they don’t have as much funding as they need.”
Equity in educational opportunities has led to two Supreme Court cases in New Hampshire, Claremont I & II, with some districts and educational advocates considering a third. 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.
Learn more about the school funding formula in the state, its effect on student outcomes, and more:
- Webinar Recording: NH Public Education Funding A-Z
- RHNH Exec Dir. Evelyn Aissa Speaks to Contrasting Ed Outcomes in NH
- Reliance on property taxes for funding means large differences in experiences and outcomes in New Hampshire schools
- Education funding formula could lead to lawsuit
- Concord Monitor: Current education funding model subsidizes wealthy communities
- More Education Funding News