Accept No Less – A Quality Education for All
This past year, a special legislative session and district court case thrust Texas’ school finance system into the political and judicial spotlight. While much rhetoric focused on “killing Robin Hood,” community members, parents and concerned educators ensured that questions about how Texas can create an excellent education, not just for some but for all of Texas’ children, remained on the table.
The bottom line is that while the system has moved to far greater equalization, inequities persist. And here, as in most states, inequities are aggravated by an over-reliance on local property wealth and inadequate funding for critical bilingual education, and English as a second language and special needs programs.
Against this backdrop, some have fought to limit or eliminate equalization, a move that could push equity even further out of reach. In Texas, this point was not lost on District Judge John Dietz, when he stated: “There is, in our current system, unquestionably, a significant gap of more than ten points in educational achievement between economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged students…The key to changing our future is to close the gap.”
In grappling with these challenges, Texas is certainly not alone. The Education Trust reports that 36 states face funding disparities between high wealth and low-wealth school districts and “most states also have a funding gap between the schools with the most minority students and those with the fewest” (Carey, 2004).
Still, some have asserted that levels of school funding do not affect student achievement. In a meta-analysis of research on the link between resources and achievement, however, Biddle and Berliner (2003) find the reverse to be true, that is, public school funding has a “substantial effect” on achievement. Their analysis finds that better-funded schools are able to attract more qualified teachers, reduce class sizes, and achieve better outcomes for “at risk” children.
On the plus side, school funding is and always has been a question of choices, values and priorities. School finance systems are not imperatives but a collection of decisions. As such, these policies can and must be accountable to serving all children well and equitably. Robert Slavin emphasizes that the very structure of U.S. public education funding (relying on local property wealth) is anomalous among nations. He reports that the United States is the only developed nation to fund elementary and secondary education in this way: “Other developed countries either equalize funding… or provide extra funding for individuals or groups felt to need it.”
Looking ahead, we can anticipate a range of challenges to quality, access, and equity. Recently, the Governor’s Business Council outlined a dangerous plan to package vouchers, private school takeovers and charter schools into a school finance makeover – a reprise of Ross Perot’s proposals from 1984. In the midst of these and other proposals, IDRA can be counted upon to judge any school finance proposals against a consistent set of principles. All of our children deserve no less than our commitment and investment in neighborhood public schools that are fully funded and held accountable to providing an excellent, equitable education.
A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing
Conducting Research – In developing school finance models that will be shared with policy leaders and available to the public through http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/, IDRA is convening a cadre of experts to examine the operational and fiscal impact of various school finance proposals.
Developing Leaders – In commemoration of the landmark court cases of Brown vs. Board of Education and Mendez vs. Westminster, IDRA is convening African American and Latino business, education and community leaders to ensure that these cases act as catalysts for achieving a vision of access and equity. Fair funding is a central pillar of this work.
Informing Policy – IDRA was invited to brief the Texas Senate Education Committee on major education issues in January 2005 and to present school finance briefings to minority caucuses and members of the House and Senate. In addition to these sessions, IDRA will continue its commitment to develop specialized briefings and focused technical assistance to newer members of the House as they develop and expand expertise on school finance issues.
Engaging Communities – In partnership with the Texas Latino Education Coalition, IDRA is reaching out to parents, teachers, school board members and administrators to deepen public engagement in school finance equity. School finance is also fundamental to IDRA’s work on InterAction: Higher Education and Latinos in the New Millennium. Bringing together higher education, elementary and secondary education with community-based organizations and business leaders, InterAction’s policy forums and statewide seminar will set an agenda for college access and success that extends from pre-school to graduate and professional studies.
What You Can Do
Get informed about public school finance debates by joining the Texans for Fair Funding e-mail update list (sign up online or call 210-444-1710) or by visiting www.texans4fairfunding.org; learn about the relationship between fair funding, bilingual education and weights, by reviewing the unified position statement.
Get involved by signing the declaration for funding excellence and equity (www.texans4fairfunding.org or call 210-444-1710);
Get results by joining the Texas Latino Education Coalition (contact Frances Guzmán at IDRA 210-444-1710) or other networks that promote fair funding in your area. Let your policymakers know why funding equity is important to your children, neighborhoods, school district, community.
Additional Research and Resources
- Center for Public Policy Priorities, Funding Public Education in Texas?
- Equity Center, analysis of December 30 West Orange-Cove vs. Neeley ruling
- Education Commission of the States: Summary of What the States are Doing
- National Conference on State Legislatures National Center on Education Finance
- District Court ruling on West Orange-Cove vs. Neeley
Biddle, B.J., and D.C. Berliner. “What Research Says About Unequal Funding for Schools in America,” Policy Perspectives (San Francisco, Calif.: WestEd, 2003) http://www.wested.org/cs/we/view/rs/694.
Carey, K. The Funding Gap 2004 Many States Still Shortchange Low-Income and Minority Students (Washington, D.C.: The Education Trust, 2004) http://www2.edtrust.org/NR/rdonlyres/30B3C1B3-3DA6-4809-AFB9-2DAACF11CF88/0/funding2004.pdf.
Finnigan, K. et al. Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program Final Report (Washington, D.C.: SRI International, 2004) http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/choice/pcsp-final/finalreport.doc.
Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]