The Education Department last week weighed in on the sometimes thorny issue of equitable funding among public schools, unveiling original research showing that disadvantaged schools (those eligible for Title I funding) receive less money from local governments than more well-off schools. The law requires districts to provide equitable state and local resources to both their low-income and their higher-income schools, but there are a number of ways that districts can tweak the numbers. For example, they can ignore years of experience in teacher compensation, thus zeroing out differences between schools in the overall experience levels of their teachers.
The Education Department's findings are no surprise to civil rights groups that have been squawking for years about disadvantaged schools being shortchanged. But the administration's painstaking study of $13,000 school districts adds gravity to the argument that the comparability loopholes cause inequities.
Some local school administrators chafe at the current comparability provisions in No Child Left Behind, saying the requirements hamper their ability to freely move money to the schools that need it the most. Other policymakers say the whole point of federal funding for education is to ensure that kids at all schools, rich or poor, have experienced teachers and good curricula. That's why the comparability requirements are there.
What is an appropriate way to regulate equitable funding for schools? Is this an area that requires federal involvement? Should school districts be allowed some leeway (like the current 10 percent variation) in resource levels for different schools? Or should the funding be absolutely equal? What should be included or excluded in comparisons between school resource levels?