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
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."