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FAIR FUNDING AND ITS EFFECTIVE USE
New ELC Article Explores State Obligation to Ensure Money Matters
In March 2015, Education Policy Analysis Archive (EPAA) published "Resource
Accountability: Enforcing State Responsibilities for Sufficient and
Equitable Resources Used Effectively to Provide All Students a Quality
Education" by Education Law Center's (ELC) David Sciarra and Molly Hunter.
The ELC article, written for the Stanford
Center for Opportunity Policy in Education's (SCOPE's) New
Accountability project, headed by noted educator Linda Darling-Hammond,
explores cutting-edge school finance reforms that include not
only fair and adequate school funding, but also frameworks to
ensure the "effective and efficient" use of funding by local
districts and schools.
In "Resource Accountability," Mr. Sciarra and Ms. Hunter explain
that the current debate over state school finance reform, by focusing
on how much states spend on education, is too narrow. What's missing
is the oft-ignored but crucial question of how states must also
put in place mechanisms to drive funding to support essential resources
and research-proven programs in local classrooms, especially in
schools serving high concentrations of students in poverty, English
language learners and students with disabilities.
The article points out that all 50 state constitutions obligate
states to provide public education to every child. The states,
through their finance systems, provide approximately 90% of elementary
and secondary school funding in the U.S. State school finance laws,
determine the level and allocation of state revenue to local school
districts and the extent to which communities can raise local tax
revenues to support their schools.
As ELC's just released 4th Edition
of the National Report Card shows, most of these state finance systems provide
inadequate funding overall, with little or no increase distributed
to districts tasked with educating high numbers of students living
In "Resource Accountability," Mr. Sciarra and Ms. Hunter note
that a few states have enacted school finance reforms that go beyond
determining the level and allocation of funding. These few states
have taken the lead by including measures to foster the effective
and efficient application of funds at the local level. These states,
including New Jersey and California, have pioneered new ways to
support local school and district implementation of proven educational
programs and services that meet student needs. Importantly, these
finance systems are designed to be "standards-linked," that is
to ensure delivery of essential resources in schools and classrooms
to afford all students the meaningful opportunity to meet state
academic learning standards and become prepared for civic and economic
The article explores new ground by describing concrete examples
of how to broaden current narrow formulations of state school finance
by not only providing funding to districts, but also directing
that funding to the resources and programs essential for students
to achieve rigorous academic standards. Mr. Sciarra and Ms. Hunter
call for new models and research to address the urgent need to
develop, implement, and evaluate new frameworks designed to ensure
states meet their concomitant obligation of both funding schools
adequately and ensuring effective use.
"Put simply, resource accountability means states must simultaneously
provide fair and adequate funding and advance the effective use
of those funds," the co-authors state in the article.
New Jersey's Standard Linked School Funding
In "Resource Accountability" Mr. Sciarra and Ms. Hunter detail
New Jersey's major strides along the path to resource accountability
by aligning needs-based resources and costs with state learning
standards, and from this state's reforms they deduce a model applicable
to all states. They also note progress in this direction in other
states. New Jersey is the most developed of these states, propelled
by successive court directives, as the state's Supreme Court was
the earliest and most articulate court to frame resource accountability.
The Court laid out a roadmap for the state, writing, "We have always
insisted that increased funding to the [high-need districts] be
allocated for specific purposes realistically designed to improve
education. The Commissioner [of Education] has an essential and
affirmative role to assure that all education funding is spent
effectively and efficiently ... to achieve a constitutional education." (Abbott
v. Burke, 1994)
New Jersey's remedial measures included high quality preschool
for all three- and four-year-olds, full-day kindergarten, technology,
and school-to-work and college-transition programs for children
in the formerly underfunded low-wealth districts. While the low-wealth
districts saw ongoing progress, the state functioned with a disjointed
funding system, one for the high-need districts and another negotiated
annually for the rest of the state.
Therefore, a few years later, the state's education officials
undertook the process of calculating the costs of programs and
services needed for all students across a wide variety of school
districts. On the basis of this educational cost study, the state
developed and adopted the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA),
which provides a base cost, plus additions of 47 to 57% for low-income
students, 50% for English learners, and amounts for students with
disabilities. The SFRA funds preschool at $11,506 to $12,934 per
pupil and $7,146 per pupil in Head Start to augment federal funds.
All of the programs must comply with high quality benchmarks.
Applying the New Jersey experience more broadly presents a practical
model for the challenge of devising a meaningful formula when states
decide to hold themselves accountable for actually funding their
standards---due to a court order or otherwise.
California's Local Control Finance Formula
More recently, in 2013, California adopted the Local Control Finance
Formula (LCFF), which takes into account the higher costs of educating
students from low-wealth families, students learning English, and
students in foster care. LCFF provides a base per-pupil amount
for each district's average daily attendance, plus upward adjustments
of 10.4% for K-3 students to reduce class size in the early grades,
20% for students learning English, in foster care or low-income,
and 50% for these students where they exceed 55% of the district's
enrollment. The new system requires all districts to develop accountability
plans that include how to invest the funding in programs, services
and strategies that will lead to better outcomes for students.
Money, Effectively Used, Matters
Mr. Sciarra and Ms. Hunter conclude by noting the growing research
demonstrating that the combination of sufficient investment in
public schooling with efforts to effectively spend those dollars
yields demonstrable progress in educational achievement and attainment.
Citing the landmark longitudinal analysis of school finance changes
in 28 states from 1970 through 2010 and their effects on children
born between 1955 and 1985, the authors explain that the researchers
used newly available data that revealed significant increases in
the likelihood of high school graduation or education beyond graduation.
It also produced "25 percent higher earnings and a 20 percentage-point
reduction in the annual incidence of poverty in adulthood," and
based on the pattern of these results "these impacts indeed reflect
the causal effect of school spending." The researchers answer the
question whether increased school spending can improve educational
and lifetime outcomes of disadvantaged children: "Our findings
show that it can." (Jackson, Johnson and Persico, 2014)
Mr. Sciarra and Ms. Hunter underscore the importance of building
resource accountability into state school finance systems. Resource
accountability is "realized by investing sufficient educational
resources, equitably distributed to ensure access to quality teaching,
a rigorous curriculum, and other essentials for all students, including
those in poverty, learning English, and with other special needs.
Resource accountability requires applying these resources effectively
to provide proven programs and services that address student needs.
Measuring access to each key resource and ensuring that gaps in
access are closed is the only sure road to equity and higher achievement.
Resource accountability is a prerequisite for meaningful learning
enabled by professionally skilled and committed educators, the
two other pillars of a comprehensive approach to accountability."
In an earlier EPAA article, Linda Darling-Hammond, Gene Wilhoit,
and Linda Pittenger explained the need for a new accountability
paradigm that focuses on three pillars: 1) meaningful learning,
enabled by 2) professionally skilled and committed educators, and
supported by 3) adequate and appropriate resources. Adequate resources,
effectively used, are prerequisites to building the capacity of
schools to provide professionally skilled and committed educators
and meaningful learning, the first two pillars. After almost 15
years of narrowly defined test-n-punish accountability, which has
failed to deliver better opportunities or student achievement gains,
this article addresses how schools across the country can prepare
all children for success.
"The definition of 'accountability' must be radically expanded.
High-stakes consequences for schools, staff, and students based
on yearly state tests will never create the kinds of powerful education
systems we need to close the opportunity gap in the United States
and to give every child a chance to reach their potential," said
Darling-Hammond, who is Stanford University Charles E. Ducommun
Professor of Education and Faculty Director of SCOPE. "An
effective accountability system will offer a rich and well-taught
curriculum to all students, raising expectations not only for individual
schools but for the functioning of the system as a whole."
An EPAA series on education, A New Paradigm for Educational Accountability,
edited by Gustavo Fischman with guest editors Linda Darling-Hammond and Jon
Snyder, features more than two dozen articles, commentaries, and videos by
policymakers, state and district administrators, educators, researchers, students,
leaders of civil rights organizations, and business leaders.
Some of the other articles in this series include:
Darling-Hammond, L., & Snyder, J. (2015). Accountability
for resources and outcomes An introduction.
Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(20).
Menefee-Libey, D. J., & Kerchner, C. T. (2015). California's first year with
local control finance and accountability. Education Policy Analysis Archives,
Affeldt, J. T. (2015). New
Accountability in California through Local Control Funding Reforms.
Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(23).
Education Law Center Press Contact: