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The Bottom Line Antiquated Funding Creates Disparity

As reported in Education Week, two states recognized as targets for educational transformation by Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education (ACTE) are in it for the long haul. Idaho and Texas recently battled to revamp their K-12 funding formulas during their respective legislative sessions. The changes are promising, even if some questions remain about the future.

The discussions over funding formulas are greatly needed. As the article points out, “Virtually every legislator gets involved with school funding formula debates since they each have vocal constituents at risk of gaining or losing state aid. And anti-tax advocates, parents, and teachers—groups with get-out-the-vote prowess—are among those at the forefront.” The bottom line is that how the schools will be funded impacts everyone within these two states.  

In Idaho’s case, the state is currently resting on a 25-year-old funding formula, so the mere fact that there are talks to adjust the funding formula is a positive. The concern, however, is that the efforts could not get enough air under them to take flight. As the article states “Instead, lawmakers this year are expected to pass a watered-down bill that will require the state to start collecting more-accurate enrollment data.” The old formula is based solely on the schools average daily attendance and does not take into account the actual enrollment of students or “weights” applied to students who require more funding. While they continue to sit on the highly antiquated formula, the students of Idaho will be the losers in this situation.

As for Texas, House Bill 3 (I previously wrote about a different section of the bill), is intended to “upend Texas’ decades-old ‘Robin Hood’ funding formula, which takes money from property-rich districts and distributes it to property-poor districts. The bill would increase per-pupil spending to $6,030 from $5,140 and increase school spending by $9 billion over the next two years.” However, there is concern over whether the bill will be able to cross the finish line.

Don Nielsen, Program Director at the ACTE, proposes a different type of funding formula in his book, Every School (see also here regarding Idaho’s obsolete funding formula). Nielsen suggests that we create a funding formula where “the money follows the child, and also takes into account both the cost of living where the child lives and the cost to educate the child.” He pulls from his experience on the Seattle School Board where he and the rest of the members successfully “put in a weighted voucher system when [they] installed what [they] called the weighted student formula.

The funding formula recognized the differing costs to educate different children: “those schools with the most ill-prepared students received the most money. With the extra money, these schools were able to fund all-day kindergarten (at the elementary level) and reduce class sizes at all levels. Both outcomes increased the attractiveness of these schools to the parents they served. Smaller classes allowed for more individualized instruction, which enhanced academic achievement.” Another similar system to Nielsen’s proposal would be a “weighted” Education Savings Account (ESA), which would provide districts and schools greater flexibility in how money is spent. ESAs are much like vouchers in that the state in which parents reside provides a fixed amount of money to them. Parental choice and school funding flexibility are both preferred over current funding formulas.

It is imperative to continue to thrust for a structure that provides children with what they need. The most difficult to educate children require the most funding.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing is more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.”

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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