“Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card” was released yesterday. It is the second edition of the report, the first one was issued in 2010. Not surprisingly, Alabama didn’t rank highly. The Education Law Center published the report.
From the report web site: “The National Report Card rates the 50 states on the basis of four separate, but interrelated, ‘fairness indicators’ – funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage. Using a thorough statistical analysis, the Report provides the most in-depth analysis to date of state education finance systems and school funding fairness across the nation.”
Funding level is a look at real dollars allocated per pupil, local and state. However, “each state’s revenue level is adjusted to reflect differences in regional wages, poverty, economies of scale and population density”.
Funding distribution “shows whether a state provides more or less funding to schools based on their poverty concentration, using simulations ranging from 0% to 30% child poverty”. A chart showing each state’s number of school districts and students within those ranges is included.
State fiscal effort is defined as the ratio of state spending to state per capita gross domestic product (GDP). This ratio shows the effort a state puts forth to fund its school systems in relation to its capacity to produce.
Public school coverage shows the percentage of students attending public schools versus some other schooling (private or homeschooling). From the report: “The share of the state’s students in public schools, and the median household income of those students, is an important indicator of the distribution of funding relative to student poverty (especially where more affluent households simply opt out of public schooling), and the overall effort to provide fair school funding.”
Where Alabama stands in the rankings of “fairness indicators”:
- Funding level: Ranked 39th; amount: $9,071
- Funding distribution: Earned a D; at 0% poverty: $9,702; 10% poverty: $9,302; 20% poverty: $8,918; 30% poverty: $8,551; ratio of funding of high poverty to low poverty: 88%; only 7 states have a lower ratio.
- State fiscal effort: Earned a “C”
- Public school coverage: Ranked 38th; 87% of students age 6 to 16 attend public school; median income of public school family: $60,004; median income of private school family: $106,844; Private/Public Income Ratio: 1.78
What are the takeaways from this report for Alabama? What kinds of decisions can information like this influence? What implications does this information have for decision makers?
State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice stated during the April work session of the state Board of Education that he plans to lead the effort to look at better way of funding school districts with higher needs. He did not elaborate, other than to say the ALSDE will be exploring that area in the near future. According to the report, seventeen states have “progressive” funding systems, where more resources are directed toward high-poverty areas. Alabama’s system is defined as “regressive”, meaning fewer resources directed toward students as poverty increases.
This report does not offer any measure of the relationship between funding and achievement. Experts agree that is a difficult relationship to map out, but all agree that a certain base level of funding must be in place in order for high-quality learning to occur. What that level is has not yet been defined.
This 2008 study, by the Alabama Policy Institute (API), attempted to objectively determine if school districts were getting the best bang for their buck by utilizing a “Score-Spending Index” (SSI) that had been used in Kentucky. In “Alabama’s Public Education Funding Dilemma: Does Funding Influence Outcomes?”, they looked at individual schools across Alabama and calculated a value that reflected how much money their district spent on education compared to the state average and where their students scored on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT). The value, known as the SSI, reflected whether school districts were getting enough bang for their buck.
As far as the question of whether more money equals more achievement, the API’s report found no correlation. More on that report another day.
We, the public, need to better understand how our schools are funded if our true desire is to provide an excellent education to every child in our Alabama school community. This report and its indicators certainly provide more food for thought. How to pull this all together to promote a fair funding package for Alabama’s schools remains to be seen and done. The ALSDE’s actions in this regard will be closely watched.