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Funding Schools Fairly

When property tax revenues are the principal basis for the education students receive, it's clearly inequitable. That's the reason for a lawsuit filed in federal court last month in Michigan on behalf of students in Detroit's schools ("Are Detroit's Most Terrible School Unconstitutional?" The New York Times, Oct. 21). However, Connecticut and other states are no less guilty ("In Connecticut, a Wealth Gulf Divides Schools," The New York Times, Sep. 12)

Although courts in New Jersey, Texas and other states have addressed the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court has never considered it ("Christie Announces New School-Funding Plan," The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 22 and "Few Solutions in Texas School Finance Ruling," The New York Times, May 15).  I don't see how much longer it can avoid doing so when the stakes are so high.  I realize that money alone is not a panacea, but I'm talking now about a basic education.  Literacy and numeracy are indispensable for life.

If Michigan and other states that have shortchanged students want to avoid federal intervention, they would be well advised to look to California as a model.  My letter to the editor outlining the reasons was published in The New York Times ("Rich School, Poor School," Sep. 17):

In January 2014, the state Board of Education unanimously passed rules representing the most dramatic changes in four decades of school funding.  All schools in California receive an average base grant of $7,643 per student,  Schools receive 20 percent more for each student who is poor enough to qualify for a free school lunch, not fluent in English, or in foster care.  An additional payment goes to districts in which more than 55 percent of students are in one or more of these categories. Further funds are earmarked for special education.

No funding plan will satisfy everyone, but I think California's is the fairest to date.

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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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