Since 2009, the US Department of Education's (USDOE) Race to the Top (RTTT)
initiative has given billions in federal funds to states conditioned on
launching various education reforms. The USDOE has awarded these grant
regard to how equitably the states fund their schools. States control
90% of all school funding, and successful reform requires adequate resources,
especially in districts serving high concentrations of low-income students
with special needs.
In early December, USDOE announced another round of RTTT grant awards, this
time to 16 local school districts or groups of school districts. The 16 award
winners will share $400 million to support USDOE school reform priorities.
Once again, the RTTT grant process ignores the key precondition for sustaining
any meaningful education reform -- a fair and equitable state school finance
system. The winning RTTT districts are in 12 states, all of which have serious
deficiencies in the way they fund schools. Some of the districts are in states
with the most inequitable school funding in the nation.
Based on data from the 2012 Edition of the National Report Card, "Is
School Funding Fair," issued by Education Law Center (ELC), here's how
the states with the winning RTTT districts perform on school funding:
of the states earn D's or F's on funding distribution, which measures
whether the state allocates more funding to districts with higher concentrations
of student poverty. Four states earn D's (Colorado, Florida, New York,
and two states earn F's (Nevada, North Carolina).
but three states provide no additional funds to educate students in
poverty. In most of these states, the average funding levels of the
districts are actually lower than levels in the lowest poverty districts.
North Carolina, for example, funds districts with no student poverty
at an average of $11,111 per pupil while only providing $8,699 to the
states have funding levels that, when adjusted to allow for state to state
comparisons, fall below the national average: California, Colorado, Florida,
Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Washington. California
and Texas funding levels are $8,897 and $8,862 per pupil, respectively, ranking
42nd and 43rd in the nation.
of the states fail to make the effort to adequately fund their schools.
Five states receive F's for fiscal effort: California, Colorado, Florida,
and Washington. These states devote a relatively small proportion of
their state economic output to fund public education compared to other
Colorado, for example, provides only 3.1% of the state's fiscal resources
to public education, while Vermont, the highest ranked state, provides
almost twice that at 5.7%.
Carolina shortchanges its students the most on school funding, providing
a very low level of funding overall, while funding higher poverty districts
significantly below wealthier districts. The Tar Heel state also exerts
low fiscal effort on public education funding.
Once again, most of the RTTT grants will go to deeply underfunded districts
and schools. These districts are in states that fail to provide a sufficient
level of funding and, more importantly, do not provide additional resources
in relation to student need and concentrated poverty. Many of these states
have fiscal capacity but still fail to make even a reasonable effort to fairly
fund their schools.
This fundamental flaw in the RTTT initiative follows a longstanding -- and
profoundly disturbing -- approach to federal education policy that distributes
federal funds to states that fail to fund their schools based on the actual
costs of delivering rigorous standards to all students, including low-income
students, English language learners, students with disabilities and students
in concentrated poverty. The result: the federal government, however unwittingly,
sends its limited education dollars to "subsidize" states with
unequal funding or, even worse, to back fill state education aid cuts.
"As with past federal efforts, many of the winning districts will be
unable to sustain the RTTT reforms given the inequity in their state's school
funding system," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director.
"It's time for USDOE to stop rewarding states with unequal school funding," Mr.
Sciarra added. "The nation's students need the federal government to
begin pressing states to develop finance systems that are based on the actual
cost of delivering rigorous academic standards, including the additional
funds required for students in high need districts and schools."