After hearing the discussion of the FY15 budget (yep, FY14 just started on October 1, but the planning for next year has begun in earnest) at the State Board of Education (SBOE) October work session and reading the news articles following the session (this one is good, too), I couldn’t help but wonder what the actual numbers show. So I started looking for the numbers.
I thought that putting together a quick spreadsheet and then crafting an infographic or interactive chart would be pretty simple. I was wrong.
There are at least three different state-provided sets of somewhat/mostly useful numbers out there.
One set is produced by the Legislative Fiscal Office in the annual Budget Books.
One set of numbers is contained in the actual spreadsheets of appropriations from the Education Trust Fund (the source of state funding for K-12 public schools) showing what the House requested, what the Governor requested, what the Senate passed, and what was ultimately enacted.
And one set of numbers is in the “Quick Facts” published by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).
After spending many hours sifting through those numbers, trying to match up this set with that set with the other set, I began to consider that maybe the story isn’t what the numbers tell us but the fact that there aren’t any easily accessible sets of numbers out there, period. However, that story is for another day.
Starting at the top of the school funding chain, the Foundation Program begs a look.
The Foundation Program – The Primary Formula for Funding Alabama’s Public Schools
The Foundation Program was first implemented in 1935. Here’s a fairly thorough primer, if you’d like to read more. It has changed quite a bit through the years.
This updated primer, from the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA), states the purpose of the Foundation Program succinctly:
“The intent of the Foundation Program was to provide an equitable, basic funding stream for public K-12 schools throughout the state. The equity came through a mandated 10-mill equivalence in local property tax which the local school system had to commit to the Foundation Program. In theory, a poorer school system operating only with funds provided through the Foundation Program would have the essential elements to offer a solid foundation program.
The legislation also established a framework for the K-12 funding budget. The Foundation Program provides to each school system the following:
- A minimum number of teachers (called units)
- A principal, assistant principals, librarians, and counselors according to school population (also called instructional support units)
- Operations money known as Other Current Expense (OCE – see below for detail)
Basic financial support for classrooms: textbooks, technology, professional development, library enhancement, and classroom materials and supplies.” (p. 2)
Note that the Foundation Program is not a totally-state-funded program. Rather, it is a “partnership” that requires local school systems to share a portion of the total cost to fund that basic financial support for the areas listed previously. The local school district’s portion is known as the “10 mill match” or “local match”, which theoretically requires more of a match from more affluent districts because the value of 10 mills of property tax will vary from district to district. The image below (from the SSA’s primer) depicts the “local match” in theory:
With that in mind, here are a few factors to consider. Total appropriations to the Foundation Program. Total Foundation Program funding per student. How crucial the state portion of the Foundation funds are to school districts that have little local support for their schools.
Is the Foundation Program adequately funding the foundational needs of Alabama’s public schools? Have foundational needs changed since 1995? Have expectations changed? Have costs increased at a higher rate than tax revenues have supported? Can tax revenues support the expectations of Alabama’s citizens where public education is concerned?
Serious questions to consider as public education continues to draw more folks to the discussion.
School funding formulas can get a bit dreary, so we will stop here. For now.
Here is the full discussion of the FY15 budget from the SBOE work session on October 24, 2013.