Archive for the ‘Equity’ Category

We Need a Funding System Built for Tomorrow, not 1940

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An enormous and growing number of Delaware students—including those learning English, have special needs, or come from low-income families—aren’t being properly served by our state’s school funding system. This issue has been thrust back into the spotlight thanks to a high-profile civil rights lawsuit, and the ongoing heightened conversations about the Christina School District.

 

Something has got to give.

 

The equity challenges in our funding system are not surprising because it was designed in the 1940s, more than three decades before black students were fully integrated and before the federal government determined that students learning English or had a disability were eligible for a “free and appropriate public education.” While there have been tweaks to the system (and while the federal government provides some limited funding to address these issues), the basic design of the system has not changed for nearly 80 years. Yet English learner students have increased by 433 percent since 1997, and low-income students make up roughly 37 percent of the student body. Addressing the unique needs of these students simply were not built into the system back then because that was not its charge.

 

Eighty years ago, the world around our young people was more than a little bit different. Of course, communication and travel looked dramatically different, and the economy was humming along pretty well with just about 13 percent of Delawareans having some education beyond high school.

 

In short, we have a funding system built and designed for a completely different student body, era, and economy. Almost every other state in the country and most high-performing countries have long since moved to a system that reflects the fact that different children need different supports to succeed.

 

We often talk about an equitable, student-centered funding system as a standalone concept. But it’s not; it’s fundamental to ensuring the success of all types of students with a variety of needs and interests.

 

Often, the same kids who don’t receive dedicated funding also have known social and emotional needs, and additional flexible funding that follows the student could allow districts and schools to tailor wraparound supports. Consider the thousands of students who arrive in Delaware learning English, or who are striving to graduate high school with some college credits under their belt, or who want to supplement their traditional classes with online or distance learning experiences. In other states, schools have the financial flexibility to support these students down their unique paths. In Delaware, not so much. In some cases, savvy superintendents and charter school leaders can work around the system to get there, but the system should be built to respond to and support these shifts.

 

Delaware is one of only four states that doesn’t provide additional resources for English learners, meaning districts and charters must cobble together other funding to meet legal requirements for serving English learners. In other words, a school with 100 EL students receives the same amount of state funding as a school with 10 EL students—$0. Dedicated funds for EL students would help districts and charters provide a wide array of services, including hiring additional certified instructors.

 

Delaware’s unit count funding system also stands in the way of unleashing the full powers of personalized learning. Innovative school design, reimagined teacher roles, and flexible course offerings for students—like online or distance learning, community experiences where students earn credit, and other activities related to students’ specific needs and interests—require complicated workarounds, thanks to our inflexible spending model.

 

Nearly across the board, Delaware’s funding system limits creativity and innovation in our schools—while further deepening inequity and leaving behind kids who need more support.

 

These are the reasons Rodel counts itself among more than25 (and growing) organizations urging the state to consider a more equitable, student-centered funding formula. The Education Equity Delaware coalition is making this issue a priority.

 

Join us on April 19th when we’ll welcome local advocates and national experts, including former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, for a half-day conference dedicated to exploring Delaware’s school funding conundrum and coming together to find solutions.

Digging Deeper: Five Ways Delaware’s Funding System Doesn’t Add Up

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Delaware invests more than a billion dollars a year in public education, but our state’s method for allocating dollars, many argue, raises serious questions about transparency, efficiency, and equity. The questions aren’t going away, either. Delaware’s public education spending has only grown over the years as student enrollment continues to climb.

That’s not all. Here are just five ways Delaware’s funding system doesn’t add up.

  1. Delaware’s funding system is over 70 years old

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That isn’t the case for a funding system created when schools were still racially segregated, when there were no federal protections for students with disabilities, and when computers weren’t part of everyday life. Classrooms are not the same as they were in the 1940s. Students’ academic and non-academic needs are growing—just as technology has transformed the way teaching and learning occur. Delaware’s restrictive funding system hinders personalized learning models where technology and innovative classroom models put students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

  1. Spending is not transparent—for parents or for advocates

In a Vision Coalition statewide poll on education, 69 percent of Delawareans agree that it is too hard to find information about how tax dollars are spend in the education system. Only 27 percent agree that they could find information they needed on how tax dollars are spent.

To date, Delaware does not report education spending at the school-level within traditional districts. Public reporting of education spending is limited to online school profiles, which show state and district average per pupil expenditures, and the state’s open checkbook, which lists and displays all financial transactions in the state. For the average parent or taxpayer, it’s unclear exactly how schools are receiving and spending education dollars, or whether schools serving high populations of low-income students are getting the resources they need to provide a high-quality education.

  1. The money does not follow students

The state distributes most funds based on prescriptive and inflexible units—or fixed staff positions. Despite the fact that student ratios undergird the unit system, there is no set dollar amount for each individual student, as there is in most other states. Instead, one unit enables districts to hire based on teachers’ level of education and experience. This means that the same student, with the same needs, could “earn” different amounts of money from the state depending on where they go to school. And custodians, secretaries, and administrators monies are allocated based on such outlandish measures such as the number of classrooms, auditorium seating capacity, swimming pools, or the size of central heating and air.

  1. Inflexibility = inefficiency

Funds received through the unit count generally cannot be used as cash for other purposes. Only around eight percent of funding is truly flexible. Less rigidity could result in savings for schools through smarter spending, such a contracting out services or using allocated funds to meet specific student needs—something that is already happening in Delaware charter schools.

  1. Our current system is unfair to students

Our current funding system disproportionately disadvantages low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learner students. Students with higher needs don’t get more money allocated to them, even though we know it takes more resources to adequately educate these students. English learners and low-income students are consistently underserved, as indicated by academic outcomes (see Delaware Public Education at a Glance) yet have zero dedicated state funding. The system even has barriers for students with disabilities, as illustrated in this infographic. The result of this inequitable system is a large portion of our high-needs students (up to one-third of the entire public school population in the case of low-income students) are not fully benefiting from our current public education funding formula.

Delaware can build a better system. Here’s how:

  1. Update the funding system and base it on student needs. A foundation system or weighted student funding system allocates money for each student, with additional funds for high-need students (low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners). A majority of states use this type of system—though not all provide extra funding for all the high-need categories we listed here.
  2. Create more flexibility for schools and districts by allowing them to determine how to best use education dollars. Offer training for school and district leaders to make informed decisions on how to best use flexible dollars.
  3. Build transparency into the system. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers an opportunity for states to become more transparent in how funding looks at the school level, if implemented consistently across the state. A more simplified system where money follows students will allow for schools and districts to estimate the amount of funding they will receive and make it easier for parents and taxpayers to see the impact of public education investments.

What We’re Reading: Artist Shares the Spotlight with School-to-Prison Pipeline

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What We're Reading
The education world is facing an equity crisis. Students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners (to name a few) remain underserved by our current system. While many fight for solutions, gaps in our collective knowledge and understanding of the complexities around educational inequity linger.

Each month, the Rodel team will share some thoughts on a book, essay, article, or video related to equity in education with the hope that we will challenge both ourselves and others to think more inclusively about education reform.

 

 

What I’m Reading Watching: Notes from the Field, a one-woman show by Anna Deavere Smith

 

In developing Notes from the Field, Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominee Anna Deavere Smith interviewed more than 200 people living and working within the fields of education and criminal justice, including parents, students, educators, journalists, elected officials, prison inmates, academics, and activists. The resulting one-woman show explores the development and continuation of the school-to-prison pipeline in America’s public schools as well as themes of race and class disparity in America more broadly. The production is engaging, and Smith’s command of the stage is incredible as she takes on such a spectrum of voices, bringing visibility to populations and stories that need to be told and recognized more often.

 

Of all the perspectives Smith shares in Notes from the Field the ones that stood out the most to me were those of students. Whether the students were caught up in the criminal justice system in the blink of an eye or over the course of many years of “bad behavior” and “warning signs,” the stories they told illustrated a harsh and unforgiving disciplinary system which often has little regard for child development and has historically had a disproportionate impact within low-income and minority communities. As Judge Abby Abinanti, the chief judge of the Yurok tribe and one of Smith’s “characters” in the production discussed, “You cannot deal with children if you don’t have a sense of kindness and respect and if you don’t like them, and if you don’t have systems that like them and respect them… If [a student] does something wrong, then [he or she] needs to come closer, not be pushed away.” Notes from the Field is a challenge to all of us who work with or on behalf of children to advocate for an overhaul of how we approach discipline and consequences in classrooms—and police stations—across the country.

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