Equitable State Funding
"Thirteen million --- or one in five --- American children live in poverty, the overwhelming majority of whom attend schools that receive inequitable and inadequate school funding due to the dependence of poor school districts on limited property taxes to support public education..." —2001, General Synod XXIII Resolution, "Access to Excellent Public Schools: A Child's Civil Right in the 21st Century,"
The church's prophetic witness for justice calls people of faith to condemn inadequate and inequitable school funding, for in a nation with publicly funded, compulsory schools, it is the government's role to provide quality public schools for all children, wherever they live, whatever their race, and whatever their family's circumstances.
Advocacy at the state level is very appropriate, because public school finance is a responsibility defined in the constitutions of forty-nine states as a collaboration (usually uneasy) of state and local governments (Hawaii is the exception with one statewide school district). Federal funds pay for less than 10 percent of the total. Within the majority of states, funding levels remain inequitable among districts that continue to rely on the local property tax for the bulk of school funding, despite thirty years' of lawsuits that have attempted to increase equity by shifting the burden of funding to the state.
You are encouraged to take the leap and help mobilize your congregation or a group in your conference for witness and advocacy to reform in your state's school finance system. Jan Resseger, Minister for Public Education and Witness, will consult and/or provide resources. Because this subject can be opaque, inaccessible, and overly arcane, she will provide on-going guidance and support for framing a clear, strong, and motivating advocacy agenda and for finding ways to support witness and advocacy over the long-term.
NEW March, 2013: Here are the UCC's 2013 succinct, updated talking points to help faithful advocates reflect on and speak to what needs to happen today in public school reform.
2012: Repairing the Breach: A Just Agenda for Public School Reform—Questions for Federal & State Public Officials provides background on public education policy from the perspective of faith and justice and then on the second page, questions for occasions when there is an opportunity to talk with state or federal representatives.
2012 UCC web page, Child Poverty and Inequality... and Budget Cuts at State and Federal Levels.
Public School Budgets in Crisis
May 16, 2013: Witness for Justice column asks Will We Stand Against the Rationing of Education?
May 1, 2013: Jeff Bryant, writing for the Education Opportunity Network, in Cutting Education: Dumb and Dumber, describes the danger of cuts to school funding at all levels, from the federal sequester to state budgets that impact K-12 funding and Head Start.
April 2013: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights releases Reversing the Rising Tide of Inequality to affirm the importance of the February report from the Equity and Excellence Commission, call Congress, the U.S. Department of Education's Office on Civil Rights to be proactive in addressing school resource inequity, and call state legislatures to action.
February 19, 2013: A Congressionally appointed Equity and Excellence Commission that has been meeting for two years released its report, For Each and Every Child. Acknowledging that test-based accountability has not sufficiently improved public schools in America’s poorest communities, members of the Commission declare that our society must address what is a deplorable 22 percent child poverty rate, highest in the industrialized world. The report emphasizes the responsibility of governments at all levels—federal, state, and local—to ensure that children in America’s poorest communities are well served by quality, well-funded, well-staffed public schools. The report identifies five needs: improving school finance equity; ensuring that all children have well prepared teachers; providing high quality early childhood education; addressing the economic needs of students in high-poverty communities; and improving governance and accountability. The UCC Justice & Witness Ministries presented testimony to the Commission because unequal access to education is among our nation’s deepest injustices.
Wisconsin—March 19, 2013: New from the Institute for Wisconsin's Future: Governor's Bait-and-Switch budget Has Nothing New for Public Schools.
Ohio—April 11, 2013: Jan Resseger, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries' staff, presented testimony on Governor Kasich's school funding plan and the House revision of the plan to the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee.
February 6, 2013:Ohio’s Gov. Kasich recently released a new school funding plan, which he has claimed will prove to be more equitable. Runs have now been released that show what all of Ohio’s 613 school districts will receive from the state. The plan is not equitable. It will not expand opportunity for the children in Ohio’s poorest school districts. Saying that the new plan will recognize both the property to be taxed in a school district and the capacity of residents to pay for local levies according to income, the governor’s office recently released a printout that ranks school districts by both property valuation and the income of families. In Cuyahoga County, according to the recent spreadsheet from the governor’s office, East Cleveland ranks as desperately poor---612th of Ohio’s 613 districts in income and 580th in property valuation per pupil. Cleveland ranks 601 out of 613 districts in income and 475 in property valuation per pupil. In the runs of the Governor’s budget released today, neither of these school districts, ranked as extremely poor nationally as well as in the Ohio state context, receives any additional state support. Both continue to suffer from deep cuts ( $1.8 billion from education statewide) in the FY 12- FY13 budget, cuts which are not being fully restored in the governor’s school funding proposal. Growing outer-ring suburbs seem to gain from the Governor’s new plan. Here is a short article by Doug Livingston in the Akron Beacon Journal that explains the problem succinctly. And here is a powerful commentary by an elementary school principal in one of Ohio's wealthy school districts, State Approach to Education Is Smoke and Mirrors; she rues what is happening today in Ohio.
February 13, 2013: More information on Kasich budget raises serious questions for schools.
California—January 24, 2013: In his state-of-the-state address, Governor Jerry Brown addresses California's failure to fund schools adequately and equitably.
November 6, 2012: California’s voters passed Proposition 30, an initiative backed by Governor Jerry Brown to increase personal income taxes for seven years on those earning over $250,000. The tax issue, that will raise $6 billion annually, passed by a large margin—54 percent to 46 percent. The new revenues will prevent massive additional cuts to the state’s public schools and universities and will help balance the budget.
September 4, 2012: Here is a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: New School Year Brings More Cuts in State Funding for Schools. The numbers are pretty shocking.
Pennsylvania—June 9, 2012: Reading, Pennsylvania schools cut 350 staff including 110 teachers as state slashes funding.
New York—May 25, 2012: Billy Easton of New York's Alliance for Quality Education discusses Albany's Unkindest Cut of All, reprising the themes of the now 20-year-old Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol.
Real cuts in state budgets and threatened cuts in the federal budget directly imperil course offerings, co-curricular activities, class size, and availability of all-day kindergargen and enriched pre-school programs across the states. Two new reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Campaign for America's Future explain what revenue shortfalls mean for particular states and school districts. And, an October 10, Witness for Justice column examines federal and state budget priorities as they affect children and public schools.
January 2012: Rutgers University economist Bruce Baker and the Albert Shanker Institute revisit the age old question: Does Money Matter in Education? Baker looks at the things money buys: teachers and small class size, for example, and he concludes (in an in-depth report) that, of course, money matters a lot.
Texas---June 13, 2012: Texas school district weighs charging $200 for every child riding school bus, without sliding scale for low-income children. District must close $1.2 million deficit out of $37 million operating budget. State funding cuts created much of this crisis.
January 2012: John Kuhn, superintendent of the small Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas, describes what he believes are the causes of school funding inequity in his state: There's a hole in the bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza.
Whose Child Left Behind? Why? Between 2001 and 2005 a UCC Public Education Task Force was charged by General Synod 23 to, "identify systemic barriers to excellent public education and to recommend strategies to address those barriers." Four years later and after reflecting on site visits to schools in greater Cleveland, Ohio; Phoenix, Arizona; Hartford, Connecticut; and Wartburg, Tennessee, the Task Force reported on, "inequality in inputs from one place to another. Vastly unequal investment will inevitably deny opportunity for the children who attend poorer facilities, in larger classes, and with less investment in teachers' salaries and ongoing training." A study guide for this resource appears in the 2006 Message on Public Education.
Our Faith Informs School Finance Debate Our decisions about the level of public investment and its distribution are ultimately ethical as well as economic questions. In a land of plenty will we commit generously to tend God's lambs, to seek the lost, to bring back the strayed, and to strengthen the weak?
Education Justice at the Education Law Center, Abbott v. Burke litigator
New York, Alliance for Quality Education
Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, DeRolph v. Ohio plaintiff
Institute for Wisconsin's Future