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August 23, 2011

Over the past five months, the federal educational Equity & Excellence Commission, charged with recommending how the federal government can increase educational opportunity by improving school funding equity, has heard from many people and organizations concerned about quality public education. In public testimony and written statements, Commissioners have repeatedly been made aware of the urgent need for public school equity and the Opportunity to Learn for all students.

In July, Commission members received a report, "The Impact of School Facilities on Civil Rights and Student Achievement," submitted by multiple organizations, including the Advancement Project, 21st Century School Fund and the Public Education Network.

The report points out that adequate facilities are a prerequisite for increasing student achievement. School buildings in poor condition result in lower student attendance rates and higher teacher turnover rates, and both of these situations reduce student learning, the report explains. The report also includes six excellent and practical recommendations for federal action to improve public school buildings,

The National Council of Churches (NCC) issued a Pastoral Letter on Federal Policy in Public Education, An Ecumenical Call for Justice in May 2010, and recently forwarded the letter and other relevant documents to the Equity Commission's members. The letter states the following NCC positions: " ... public schools must guarantee each child's right to educational opportunity;" " ... we value public school educators;" and " ... we value democratic governance of public schools," over private charter boards.

The Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), which has been advocating for improvements in federal education law (Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA) for eight years, also submitted its "All Children Deserve the Opportunity To Learn" statement to Commission members in July. FEA asserts that "Congress should:

  • 1) address funding disparities and equity in education, in its own law-making and in conjunction with the states;
  • 2) support students, including those with diverse learning needs, both in school and out of school;
  • 3) take additional steps toward ensuring all children have access to highly effective teachers, leaders, and other school personnel;
  • 4) provide increased access to opportunity through high quality [preschool];
  • 5) work with the states to ensure adequate school facilities, programs, and services; and
  • 6) promote school policies, including school discipline, that ensure a positive school climate conducive to learning."

Many other organizations have also submitted their recommendations to the Commission, which was created in February 2011, at the request of Congress and on the initiative of Representatives Honda (CA) and Fattah (PA). The Commission was established to:

" ... collect information, analyze issues, and obtain public input regarding how the federal government can increase educational opportunity by improving school funding equity.  The Commission will also make recommendations for restructuring school finance systems to achieve equity in the distribution of resources and further student performance, especially for students at the lower end of the achievement gap.  The Commission will examine the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities that give rise to the achievement gap with a focus on systems of finance, and recommend appropriate ways in which Federal policies could address such disparities."

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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