Education has been called the passport to the American dream. This is the dream that should be equally afforded to all the citizens in this country. The public-school system was the passport to accomplishing the dream. Many of the low income and minority students in the public education system attend low performing schools that are underfunded and under-resourced. Unfortunately, these funding inequities result in a low-quality education for those students with the greatest need and thus making the American dream an elusive dream. The daunting reality is that abhorrent funding injustices continue to exist in this country, and too often the schools serving students with the greatest needs receive the fewest resources. In the education world, the existence of funding inequities has long been a known fact, but the sources of these inequities have not always been obvious. The growing consensus is that poverty, social economic status, and inequity in educational resources have led to continued oppression of minorities.
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Public policies have also contributed to the narrative of systemic oppression of marginalized and minority people. It is through deliberate, systemic practices and through policy enactment that public schooling has become the new microcosm for race annihilation. Both explicit and implicit government actions that mandated racial segregation contributed to and predetermined today’s racial segregation (Rothstein, 2014). Additionally, shifts in these resources led to the creation of inadequately funded schools which in turn led to widespread disenfranchisement of black people when it came to economic opportunities and the urban decay of their communities. It is noted that some Black schools were high achieving prior to the Brown case and in spite of the lack of equitable funding.
This paper was driven by the need for answers to the consistent shortfall of revenue funds to adequately fund much need programs in low performing schools to emphasize the obstacles facing minority students’ success in primary and secondary schools. It will focus on the history of school finance policy and funding gaps, root causes of the funding shortage while also looking at the effects of state and local initiatives on funding shortages. It will seek to explain how the gaps have affected schools and the communities in which they serve.
History of school finance policy and funding gaps
Public schools were formed to serve their local communities (Biddle & Berliner, 2002). They were financed by voluntary contributions until the end of the 19th century. This marked the beginning of funding through local property taxes. During the 1920s, local governments provided over 80 percent of school funding. Since the 1950s and with the enactment of the 1955 with National Defense Education Act., state and local governments contribute the largest sums to funding schools.. The federal funding contribution exploded with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It is worth noting the federal government now provides less than ten percent of school funding (Chinos & Bragg, 2017).
In addition to federal and local funding policies, segregation complicated funding gaps. Hochschild & Scovronick (2003) suggested that laws passed to discourage segregation also ushered in new school funding policy. Brown vs Board of Education paved the way for equal access to adequate education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 permitted the federal government to cut off funds from school districts that discriminated and enabled attorneys to sue districts. The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Act provided federal funds for schools with poor children. In 1972, The Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA) provided federal aid to school districts embarking on desegregation (Hochschild & Scovronick, 2003). States that explicitly fought for these segregative policies could not access these funds. However, people still found ways to discriminate
As time passed, more and more people left their local communities for the allure of the major cities and eventually to the suburbs. This shift to the suburbs also shifted property taxes to the suburbs and the schools located there. This created a lower tax bases in the urban communities resulting in less funding for urban schools. This shift to the suburbs was termed white flight. White flight was another factor that created funding gaps. White apprehension about race mixing is associated with the belief that having black neighbors undermine property values which implies that white perceive blacks to be a direct threat to their social status (Massey & Denton, 1993). This apprehension led to white families relocating to areas away from black neighbors. A lower tax base was created in urban communities because of this transition to the suburbs and contributed to the school districts’ budget shortfall.
In addition, local government allocation of monies to other services , an increased student flight to charter schools also caused a decrease in available funds (Caskey & Kuperberg, 2014). This process of reallocation of funding further highlighted the need for policymakers to pay close attention to race and poverty when crafting funding policies.
Mismanagement of school funding, the infiltration of charter schools, and the end of the federal stimulus program also contributed to funding shortfalls for urban school and requires a leader to adhere to economic and sound fiscal management . Economic leadership is paramount in the success of schools. School leaders must be proactive and aware of financial changes that might affect budgets. Leaders must use their economic capital in the most prudent and efficient way. Brooks and Normore (2018) stated that economic capital was related to financial inputs, processes, and outputs. This was the way money and funds flowed into, around, and out of the schools to support educational processes and leaders have the responsibility to appropriately portion and use funds in manner that supports students, faculty, and staff in their pursuit of excellent and equitable educational processes (Brooks & Normore, 2018).
National, state and local funding policies and their effects on urban education
In 2001, the Education Trust conducted a study that showed a gap of more than $1000 per students nationwide when comparing funds between the highest and the lowest poverty school districts. The national funding gap has grown continuously, and many states have provided fewer dollars to high poverty and high minority districts (Carey, 2004). Carey (2004) also noted this disparity existed between rural and urban school funding, highlighting a Wisconsin school district in which urban schools received approximately $1700 less per students than their rural counterparts.
Cliff & Lechman (2011) further explained that elementary and high schools were receiving less state funding than previous in at least 37 states and in at least 30 state schools funding stands below 2008 levels. These cuts are attributed in part to the failure of the federal government to extend emergency fiscal aid to states and school districts. It is also due to the failure of most states to enact needed revenue increases versus balancing the budget through spending cuts. Cuts at the state level mean districts must either scale back in the educational services they provide, raise more revenue to over the gap or both.
Cuts in state aid may affect schools’ districts with high concentration of children in poverty. State typically distribute general education aid through formulas that target additional funds to school districts with large shares of low income and other high need children and/or lower levels of taxable wealth. Districts became increasingly dependent on state funding after the recession. Prior to the recession, high poverty districts received $289 per student less in state and local funding compared to similar low poverty districts. After the recession this number climbed to $1004 per student (Knight, 2017).
States have also contributed to unequal school funding issues. Cortez (2009) noted that the states failed to neutralize taxable wealth where the poorest districts have about $10,000 per students while the wealthiest districts have access to over a million dollars per students. Texas is an example of state funding practices in which the state adopted a financial plan that lessened its dependency on local tax revenue and allowed local school districts discretion to raise supplemental revenue (Cortez, 2009).
The federal government has used different stimulus measures to minimize the short-term effects of decreased funding. School budget shortfalls have also been attributed to leaders not adjusting to the end of these federal stimulus measures. Since the Regan administration, the federal government has shifted its focus from equity funding to a business-like model. The next two presidents pushed high stakes testing, privatization, school choice, and high accountability measures. Target competitive funds along with stimulus funding were short term fixes to help move the economy out of the recession. Most leaders did not look for alternative funding measures to close the funding gap and districts budget gaps were widen because other sources were not readily available.
Anyon (2014) felt federal policies contribute to the erosion of the property tax base in urban neighborhoods. These policies encouraged business to move from urban locations to suburbia. This contributed to low income property tax receipts and insufficient additional school financing and had devastating effects on public education. The lack of a property base to pay for services in cities affected school districts impoverished by them. Anyon (2014) discovered that redlining policies forbade bank loans for housing rehabilitation or purchase in urban cities. This resulted in deteriorating housing stock and discouragement of business investment in those cities. Tax breaks were given to business that moved to the suburbs. Federal subsidies and land grants were also given to these businesses.
Baker & Corcoran (2012) found that local property tax variation has been blamed as the primary cause of inequalities and called for greater state funding as the solution. In practice, however, it is seen that states providing a large share of state aid are not necessarily more equitable in their distribution of school funding. This simple means that some school districts receive more monies per pupil than others. Baker and Corcoran (2012) felt that school funding systems tended to exacerbate inequities in per-pupil spending rather than reduce them and that doing so favored communities with the least need.
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In addition to the disparity in spending from poor school districts to wealthy school districts, the effects of this funding also help fuel the funding debate. Because districts received more monies, more programs and higher rated teachers were available to increase student achievement. Card & Payne (2002) highlighted the effect of school finance reforms and the distribution of school spending across richer and poorer districts, and the consequences of spending equalization for the relative test performance of students from different family backgrounds. Increases in the amount of state aid available to poorer districts led to increases in the spending of these districts, narrowing the spending gap between richer and poorer districts. Using micro samples of SAT scores from this same period, they then tested whether changes in spending inequality affect the gap in achievement between different family background groups. They found evidence that equalization of spending led to a narrowing of test score outcomes across family background. This further supports the need for equitable funding measures.
Funding gaps because of residential and income segregation
Decisions on residential purchases have long been based on the success of the nearby school system. Real estate in a failing school system tend to stay on the market longer and the property is undervalued. Agrawal, Fox, & Siemrod, (2015) felt school accountability, school choice and empowered and informed parents have introduced competitive pressure with substantially changing schools. Jargowsky (1996) went further and noted that economic segregation among African Americans played a role in the formation of urban ghettos. Economic segregation increased steadily for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in the 1970s and 1980s but the increases have been particularly large and widespread for Blacks and Hispanics in the 1980s. Jargowsky (1996) determined these rapid increases in economic segregation and the stability of urban communities.
Income segregation comes in the form of geographical lines drawn based on income. Families in the middle and upper income resided in certain areas while impoverished and low-income family’s lived-in low-income areas. Owens, Reardon and Jencks (2016), noted less is known about trends in income segregation. They (2016) stated that between district income segregation of families with children enrolled in public school increased by over 15% from 1990 to 2010. Rising income inequality contributed to the rise in income segregation between schools and districts during this period. The rise in income segregation between both schools and districts had serious implications for inequality in students’ access to resources that bear on academic achievement (Owens, Readon, and Jencks, 2016). This fragmentation or the proliferation of independent jurisdiction was a key feature of the political structure in many metropolitan areas in the United States and further created school district fragmentation in metropolitan areas and increased multiracial segregation between districts (Bischoff, 2008).
Funding gaps and school choice and charter initiatives
Many charter school champions feel competition among schools will improve educational outcomes and argue the ineffectiveness in public education are the results of weak ties between student achievement and consequential rewards or sanctions (Agrawal, Fox, and Siemrod, 2015). Vaught (2009) the Jericho School District as an example. The Jericho School District created the differential student funding so that money was attached to students if they transferred to another school district and different amounts of money were attached to different students from different areas. These different kids were usually black or brown and entitled to more money. The money attached to each child stopped following the child at the front door of the transfer school. All monies were put into one pot and divided across the number of students enrolled at the school and reported at per pupil dollars (Vaught, 2009). This further highlighted the need for effective fiscal and economic leadership.
Baker (2014) released a report that identified a funding gap of 28.4% and the average public charter school student is receiving $3814 less than the average traditional public-school students in in state funding but the number substantially increases when you add in philanthropic monies to charter schools. . The study examined the impact of competition on levels of revenue and the composition of expenditures within traditional public-school districts. Competition depresses appraised housing valuations, in turn causing public schools to lose property tax revenues resulting in a decline in overall spending. The University of Arkansas Center for Education Reform’s report (Baker, 2014) on charter school funding inequities also proclaimed large and growing inequities between school district and charter school revenues, even after accounting for differences in student needs. A district’s expenditure could be a charter’s revenue, since charter funding is in most states and districts received by pass-through from district funding, and districts often retained responsibility for direct provision of services to charter school students (Baker, 2014)
Charter schools have been a for profit business entity since its inception. Although they profess to help the communities they reside in, they often leave a negative economic effect in those communities. Baker and Miron (2015) noted that individuals, companies, and organizations secured financial gain and generated profit by controlling and running charter schools. Baxter, Ely, and Teske (2018) also felt the debate for or against charter school was due to the public money that is at stake. Those who oppose charter school funding spark controversy by asserting that they divert funding and resources from the district run schools, potentially harming students there. They also maintained that any funding disparities are justified either because charters do not take on the same responsibilities as district schools or because they are not controlled by local authorities (Baxter, Ely, and Teske, 2015).
Scott (2013) further explained that school choice and marketization of civil rights added to the educational policy and economic policy in urban setting debate by highlighting the overarching concern with the policy of school choice and its inability to adequately and genuinely address the needs of the marginalized communities in which they were established to help. Using educational equity and opportunity for all as its beacon, market-based reforms fell short in providing those things equitably in the communities they serve. Public education has a history of being controlled by the elite and an even a more elitist presence in the management of charter schools (Scott, 2013). The current narrative suggested these market reform schools were achieving better results in the disadvantage neighborhoods than its public-school counterparts thus providing the support for more school choice.
The mission since Brown vs the Board of Education has been to provide an equal education to all. Political decisions have systematically undermined this premise regarding funding and resource allocation in urban settings. The push to use vouchers and the privatization of public education is another way to redistribute wealth by allocating the resources to these programs and ensuring the underfunded urban schools are continuously view as low preforming and ineffective. This is stacking the deck to ensure the narrative benefits the very people who have the most to gain by the enactment of these policy and reform measures. Our students have now become a commodity in which their culture and racial context is not view as an acceptable norm for society and must be changed to fit the dominant culture’s narrative. It is through this that racialized human commodification has positioned whiteness as the only form of humanity and blackness as delimiting the boundaries of white property and therefore humanity (Vaught, 2009). This allows school choice, white flight, income and geographical segregation to define the education landscape.
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