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Adequate Funding of Public Schools

Although Kansas is presently depicted as the bellwether for adequate funding of public schools ("What's the Matter With Kansas' Schools?" The New York Times, Jan. 8), 25 states were involved in the same controversy as far back as 2005. 

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if the Kansas Supreme Court upholds cuts in education funding enacted by the state Legislature. In January 2013, a trial court ruled in Gannon v. State of Kansas that cuts reduced per-student expenditures far below a level deemed "suitable" to educate all students under Kansas' standards. The fear is that if the Kansas Supreme Court orders funding to be restored, the Legislature will amend the state's Constitution to prevent courts from hearing school finance cases altogether.

Underlying the situation in Kansas and in other states is that financial resources deemed adequate for advantaged students are inadequate for students from impoverished backgrounds and for those speaking little English. Recognizing its duty to remedy this blatant unfairness, the California Legislature developed a new funding formula to be phased in over the next few years that I believe serves as a model for other states ("Making California's new school funding formula work," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16, 2013).  

The plan provides a base grant for each student in a district, plus an additional 20 percent for each student who is poor, in foster care or not fluent in English. An additional concentration grant is given to districts  with more than 55 percent of students in one or more of these categories. Despite its fairness, in my opinion, districts in California with fewer needy students have protested, claiming that it is inequitable. They base their case on the 55 percent requirement for the concentration grant.

It's impossible to design a program that will satisfy everyone.  But I think California has come close. My main concern is that too much flexibility will be permitted at the district level, raising the possibility that the additional funding will not be used for the intended students. In anticipation of that, districts must submit plans for using the money to the county department of education. Perhaps this requirement will be enough to make the plan a success. I hope so.

 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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