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Southern Poverty Law Center issued the following press release
on March 16.
ALABAMA FAILS TO PROVIDE FAIR FUNDING TO ITS SCHOOLS
March 16, 2016
MONTGOMERY, AL -- Alabama's funding of public education gets mostly
low marks in the recently released fifth edition of Is
School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. The
state's unfair distribution of funds and failure to fund at a level
sufficient to support its public schools earns Alabama poor marks
when compared to other states in its region, and beyond.
"If Alabama wants to ensure every child receives a quality education,
it must adequately fund its schools," said Rhonda Brownstein, legal
director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This report card
confirms findings from an earlier report commissioned by the Alabama
State Department of Education that clearly shows the state is failing
its students -- particularly its most vulnerable students living
in impoverished communities."
The National Report Card (NRC), issued annually by the Education
Law Center (ELC) and Rutgers University, evaluates states on four
separate, but interrelated, "fairness indicators" -- funding distribution,
funding level, state fiscal "effort," and public school "coverage." The
NRC provides the most in-depth analysis to date of state public
education finance and school funding fairness.
Alabama receives an F in the important funding distribution indicator,
which measures the extent to which a state's funding system is
structured to recognize the additional resources required for students
in a setting of concentrated student poverty. In Alabama, the pattern
is actually regressive with higher poverty districts receiving,
on average, only about 90 cents for each dollar their more well-to-do
counterparts receive. Such a skewed funding system thwarts efforts
to improve achievement and narrow achievement gaps.
Also, the state's overall funding level is well below average,
ranking 38 out of 49, even though the National Report Card (NRC)
adjusts for regional wages, economies of scale, and other factors.
Alabama's average state and local revenue per pupil in 2013 was
$7,670, over two thousand dollars below the national average of
$9,766 per pupil.
On a brighter note, Alabama receives a B on its effort to invest
in its schools. Effort is based on the percentage of the state's
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) allocated to education. The state's
funding system devotes a good share of its relatively low economic
capacity to its public schools. Nonetheless, the state's effort
dropped 14% after the 2008 great recession set in and has not recovered.
Finally, Alabama is below average on "coverage," which examines
the share of school-aged children who attend public schools and
compares the median household income of those children with the
income levels of families who do not use public schools. While
about 13% of Alabama school children attend nonpublic schools,
the income disparity between public and nonpublic school households
is high, with nonpublic households earning more than one and a
half times the earnings of public school households, on average.
"This report provides policymakers, legislators, and concerned
citizens with the information they need to assess their state's
commitment to fair school funding and to advocate for improvements
in the many states where that is absolutely necessary," said Dr.
Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education,
a co-author of the National Report Card.
"The State's continuing failure to fairly fund public education
deprives Alabama students of the teachers, support staff and other
resources necessary for a high quality education," said David G.
Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center and a co-author
of the National Report Card. "We hope the NRC results will serve
as a wake-up call for lawmakers to put school funding reform at
the top of the education agenda."
First issued in 2010, the National Report Card is built on the
principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems
of school funding are the essential precondition for the delivery
of a quality educational opportunity. Without this foundation,
efforts to improve the nation's schools will be less productive
and unsustainable. To improve on the condition and performance
of schools, states need to implement systems that provide sufficient
funding that is fairly distributed to account for the needs of
students, which are higher for low-income students, English language
learners, and students with disabilities.
Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is
coauthored by Dr. Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of
Education; David Sciarra, Esq., Executive Director of the Education
Law Center (ELC); Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director; and
Theresa Luhm, Esq., ELC Managing Director. Please visit www.schoolfundingfairness.org for
the complete report.
Poverty Law Center