EQUITABLE FUNDING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOL SUCCESS

Schools need the resources to provide the supports and services students need to succeed. However, our public schools are largely locally funded. Therefore, schools in poor communities often lack the necessary resources to meet their students’ needs. These communities typically have many parents with low incomes and low levels of education, i.e., low socio-economic status (SES). Therefore, children in these communities often have the highest levels of need, but their schools typically have the lowest levels of financial resources. Conversely, students in high SES communities generally have the lowest levels of need, but their schools tend to have the highest levels of resources. As a result, our public school systems vary tremendously in their abilities to meet students’ needs.

Many states (and to a small degree the federal government) do attempt to address this inequity in funding for public schools. To varying degrees, they provide special funding to public school systems with high numbers of children likely to struggle in school. They typically focus on children from low income families, from families where English is not the primary language, and students with disabilities. However, this targeted funding is rarely sufficient to provide the level of supports and services at-risk children need to match the performance of their better-off peers.

States provide 46% of the funding for kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) public schools with local communities providing the bulk of the rest. However, since the Great Recession of 2008, most state governments have cut their funding for public schools, despite growing numbers of students (an increase of about 800,000 from 2008 to 2014) and growing demands to improve student performance. At least 31 states were providing less funding per student in 2014 than they had in 2008.

Although some local communities were able to make up for reduced state funding, typically they did not. Nationwide, total public school funding by local communities also declined from 2008 to 2014. As a result, public school systems had about 300,000 fewer employees, primarily teachers, in 2014 than in 2008, despite the increase in the number of students. [1]

Research shows that school funding does affect student outcomes, particularly for poor children. Children who attended better funded schools are more likely to graduate from high school and to have higher earnings and lower poverty rates as adults. [2]

About 30 states have had court cases over school funding and its implications for educational equity and adequacy. [3] For example, Massachusetts and New Jersey have had successful class action lawsuits on behalf of public school students from low income communities. The courts found in both cases that inequitable funding for public schools in low income communities violated students’ rights to a free and appropriate public education as specified by their state’s constitution. (I’ll describe Massachusetts’s efforts to address this inequity in some detail in a subsequent post.)

If we truly want all our children to succeed in school, additional funding is needed from state and federal governments that targets low income and other at-risk children. Not only must we provide greater funding for public schools in low income communities, we must increase funding for the early childhood and family support programs that ensure that children arrive at school ready to learn and succeed. As my previous post described, at-risk children are not getting the supports and services they, their families, their early care and education providers, or their schools and teachers need.

[1]       Leachman, M., Albares, N., Masterson, K., & Wallace, M., 12/10/15, “Most states have cut school funding, and some continue cutting,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

[2]       Jackson, C.K., Johnson, R.C., & Persico, C., 2015, “The effects of school spending on educational and economic outcomes: Evidence from school finance reforms,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 20847

[3]       Schneider, R.E., 9/27/07, “The state mandate for education: The McDuffy and Hancock decisions,” Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Retrieved from the Internet on 1/24/16 at http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/litigation/mcduffy_hancock.html.

Advertisement

IMPROVING STUDENT SUCCESS IN OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

ABSTRACT: Students who are struggling in our public schools are ones who for a variety of reasons are experiencing barriers to learning and to succeeding in the classroom. They should be identified as early as possible, starting at birth, and effective intervention should be provided. For families who have issues that put children’s school success at risk, our public policies and programs need to do a better job of supporting these parents.

Our public school systems need to enhance their kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs, and also to work with private providers of early care and education (ECE), to ensure that every child arrives in first grade ready to learn and succeed in school.

The primary goal of testing of children, in school and before they get to school, should be to identify issues in development and learning so that interventions can be provided. High stakes testing only serves to punish students, teachers, and schools. It does nothing to solve the problems and challenges that students, their teachers, and their schools are struggling to overcome.

Student success requires quality public schools, as well as quality early care and education programs. It also requires families that have the economic security, supports, and services necessary to nurture their children. Appropriate assessment and effective intervention, for children and families, are essential to ensuring that every child receives the developmental and educational experiences necessary for consistent progress and success at home and in school, from birth to high school graduation.

FULL POST: Students who are struggling in our public schools are ones who for a variety of reasons are experiencing barriers to learning and to succeeding in the classroom. These students need to be identified and they – and in many cases their families – need to be provided with the additional supports and services necessary to get them back on track. They should be identified as early as possible (i.e., starting at birth) and effective intervention should be provided because the costs to our education system, and to the children and families themselves, are much less if intervention occurs early on.

The research on early childhood development is clear: the school readiness of children born to parents with low income and low levels of education is at risk from the day they are born. In addition, school readiness is at risk for a child in any family with significant parental issues such as mental illness (particularly maternal depression), substance abuse, domestic violence, or incarceration. The children of first-time parents, as well as young parents, those with multiple young children, and those who are not fluent in English, are also at higher risk for not being ready when they reach school. Finally, some children have physical, cognitive, or health issues that put their school success at risk.

For families who have issues that put children’s school success at risk, our public policies and programs need to do a better job of supporting these parents. This should start with paid family leave for new parents, along with home visiting, parenting education, and other supports. It should include affordable, accessible, quality early care and education (ECE) – both so parents can work and so children receive nurturing care that supports their development and early learning. Parents need jobs that pay a living wage, provide a predictable and manageable work schedule, and offer benefits and economic security. And parents and children need specialized services to be available when they are necessary to meet crises or special needs.

Our public school systems need to enhance their kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs, and also to work with private providers of ECE, to ensure that every child arrives in first grade ready to learn and succeed in school.

The primary goal of testing of children, in school and before they get to school, should be to identify issues in development and learning so that interventions can be provided. For those focused on improving school success for all children, this was the whole point of the requirements for testing in the No Child Left Behind federal education law of 2001. However, this goal got undermined and perverted in multiple ways. First, the resources to provide interventions for children who were struggling – that were promised as part of the law – never materialized. Second, the purpose for testing students got perverted from identifying issues and needed interventions to a focus on high stakes, judgmental testing. For students, the testing determined whether they got a high school diploma or not, or in some cases whether they advanced to the next grade or were held back. These high stakes outcomes were implemented despite the fact that the resources to help struggling students never arrived.

For schools, the high stakes judgements were whether they were declared “under-performing” and therefore subject to receivership and possible closure. For teachers, the results were mass firings when schools were declared under-performing or were closed. In some cases teachers’ pay was determined by student test scores. This is clearly unfair given that a teacher typically has taught a group of children for only one year out of their whole time in school. In many cases, failing students have been failing to achieve grade level norms throughout their whole school careers.

High stakes testing only serves to punish students, teachers, and schools. It does nothing to solve the problems and challenges that students, their teachers, and their schools are struggling to overcome.

The solution for the problem of children arriving at school not ready to learn and succeed is, first, to provide appropriate screenings and assessments starting early on – in the pediatrician’s office and in early care and education programs. And second, to ensure that when issues are identified the necessary supports and services are provided to the child and his or her family. Once children enter school, appropriate testing and needed interventions must continue in order to keep them on a successful trajectory.

Student success requires quality public schools, as well as quality early care and education programs. It also requires families that have the economic security, supports, and services necessary to nurture their children. Appropriate assessment and effective intervention, for children and families, are essential to ensuring that every child receives the developmental and educational experiences necessary for consistent progress and success at home and in school, from birth to high school graduation.

AUSTERITY AGENDA RESULTS IN THE POISONING OF FLINT MICHIGAN

You may have heard that the tap water in Flint, Michigan, has been poisoning its residents and particularly its children. What you may not have heard was that this was caused by the austerity agenda of the Michigan Governor and legislature (the same ones that pushed Detroit into bankruptcy). Moreover, as with Detroit, the residents of this depressed city are very poor and largely minorities (56% black).

Based on municipal budget issues, Flint was forced into receivership, control was stripped from local elected officials, and an emergency manager appointed by the Governor. In April 2014, the austerity plan called for a switch to cheaper Flint River water for residential tap water rather than that of the Detroit water system. Residents immediately complained about the color, odor, and taste of the water, as well as the appearance of rashes after using it for bathing. Residents’ concerns were ignored despite the history of contamination of the river from manufacturing plants’ wastes. And the switch was defended as a necessary business decision to address the budget issues.

Within 4 months, the water had tested positive for E-coli bacteria and residents were told to boil it before drinking it. Within 7 months, children’s blood tests began showing elevated levels of lead. By early 2015, after residents had suffered with this water for a year, state and federal officials began acknowledging privately that there were serious issues with the water, including data indicating high levels of lead in the water. [1] However, it wasn’t until October, 2015, that the source of water was shifted back to the Detroit water system after 18 months of contaminated water. And it wasn’t until January, 2016, that a state of emergency was declared. [2]

The harm to Flint residents will be long lasting. Chemicals in the Flint River water corroded water pipes and leached lead out of the pipes and into the water. The result is widespread lead poisoning whose effects cannot be undone. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead, which is a neurotoxin that harms their developing brains and nervous systems. [3] Effects can include mental retardation, as well as stunted growth, hearing loss, and cognitive dysfunction. Over 1,700 cases of children with elevated blood lead levels have been found. In adults, high lead levels can cause miscarriages and increases in blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Some of Flint’s children and adults have undoubtedly suffered permanent harm from which they will never recover.

To add insult to injury, Flint’s emergency manager has been sending out shut off notices to residents who are behind in paying for their contaminated water. Over 1,800 such notices have been sent out and more are on their way. [4]

The potential for the problem of lead leaching into the drinking water was well known in advance. However, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality did not require Flint to treat the river water to prevent corrosion, belittled the public’s complaints, and did not conduct testing of the water. The agency’s director and other state officials resigned last month. [5] The federal Department of Justice has just announced that it is launching an investigation into the water crisis.

Despite the new water supply, damage to water pipes may mean the high lead levels will persist in tap water. The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s standard is that no amount of lead in drinking water is safe and it requires local water systems to take action if over 10% of samples at the tap contain lead. Unfortunately in Flint, almost a year went by before testing was done and another 6 months passed before action was taken.

This is an example (and there are numerous others at the state and federal levels) of what happens when austerity, budget and tax cutting, and shrinking of the public sector are the goals of elected officials – typically for ideological or political reasons – rather than the health and well-being of citizens.

[1]       Bryant, J., 1/15/16, “How much do we hate our children?” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/15/how-much-do-we-hate-our-children)

[2]       Gilmore, B., 1/13/16, “Flint’s water crisis flows from a much bigger problem,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/13/flints-water-crisis-flows-much-bigger-problem)

[3]       Lazare, S. 1/7/16, “Calls for Michigan Gov. Snyder’s arrest as Flint poisoning scandal implicates top staffers,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/01/07/calls-michigan-gov-snyders-arrest-flint-poisoning-scandal-implicates-top-staffers)

[4]       Lazare, S., 1/15/16, “’Ludicrous’ as Flint tells residents: Pay for poisoned water or we’ll cut you off,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/01/15/ludicrous-flint-tells-residents-pay-poisoned-water-or-well-cut-you)

[5]       Schneider, R., & Eggert, D. 1/13/16, “Michigan National Guard, FEMA help Flint amid water crisis,” Associated Press (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/68fbd53623b147b2831296c2bce2f9ff/michigan-national-guard-fema-help-flint-amid-water-crisis)

THE YEAR-END SPENDING BILL: A BIG WIN FOR SPECIAL INTERESTS, WHILE KEEPING GOVERNMENT OPERATING

The year-end spending bill that Congress passed on December 18 was loaded with riders that had nothing to do with the budget. For example, it lifted the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports from the US, just as the climate summit in Paris concluded that emissions from burning fossil fuels must be lowered to address climate warming. The bill continued a ban on federal funding for public health studies of the causes of gun violence and continued to allow people on the no-fly list to buy guns. It repealed the 2008 requirement that meat sold in the US has to identify its country of origin.

This spending bill also included two provisions that block the disclosure of the sources of political spending. The Internal Revenue Service is prohibited from requiring the disclosure of political spending by and donors to not-for-profit entities that engage in political activity. And the Securities and Exchange Commission is prohibited from requiring the disclosure of political spending by corporations. [1]

The bill also had pork barrel spending inserted by individual members of Congress. For example, a provision for Senator Cochran of Mississippi directs the Coast Guard to build a $640 million ship in his home state, but the Coast Guard says the ship isn’t need. Similarly, Maine Senator Collins got $1 billion in the budget for a destroyer that will probably be built in Maine, but the Navy says the ship isn’t needed. [2]

The good news is that the year-end spending bill keeps our government open and operating and funds important programs for middle and low-income Americans. Furthermore, many even more odious riders were kept out of the bill. As I noted in my last post, the good news about the separate year-end tax bill is that 40% of its provisions actually benefit regular, working Americans. This percentage is almost double what it has been in the past. Concerted activism by progressive politicians, leaders, and regular Americans made some good things happen in both the year-end spending bill and the year-end tax bill.

The bad news is that, as Moyers and Winship write, “There is an unwritten rule in Congress that before you do even a little for the working class you must do a lot for the donor class.” [3] These bills do a lot for the donor class – wealthy individuals and the corporations they run. As Moyers writes, “Candidates ask citizens for their votes, then go to Washington to do the bidding of their donors,” including cutting their taxes. So, we now have a wealthy donor class that gets high levels of representation and low levels of taxation. [4]

So, keep an eye on and be in touch with your elected officials. Let them know you are watching. Let them know that you want them to serve the interests of regular, working Americans, not those of the donor class of economic elites and the corporations they run. Make this a New Year’s resolution, because your activism as an informed citizen in a democracy can make a difference. Indeed, it has to, or our democracy, of, by, and for the people, will become a plutocracy run by and for the wealthy.

[1]       Moyers, B., & Winship, M., 12/17/15, “Lurking Within That Ominous, Omnibus Spending Bill,” Moyers & Company (http://billmoyers.com/story/lurking-within-that-ominous-omnibus-spending-bill/)

[2]       Moyers, B., 12/22/15, “The Plutocrats Are Winning. Don’t Let Them!” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/12/22/plutocrats-are-winning-dont-let-them)

[3]       Moyers, B., & Winship, M., 12/17/15, see above

[4]       Moyers, B., 12/22/15, see above

THE YEAR-END TAX BILL: A BIG WIN FOR CORPORATIONS AND A LITTLE WIN FOR WORKING AMERICANS

Because of the gridlock in Congress, so few bills pass that those that have to pass get laden with special interest provisions and riders like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The recent year-end spending bill (2,009 pages long) and tax legislation (233 pages long) are the latest two examples. There were literally thousands of riders attached to these two massive and complicated bills. Many special interest provisions are slipped in by powerful legislators, typically on behalf of corporate lobbyists, when there is little time for other legislators (let alone the public) to scrutinize them. Nonetheless, these provisions can produce significant, windfall benefits for the targeted beneficiaries. Not surprisingly, the executives of the corporations that stand to reap the benefits are often large campaign contributors. [1]

The tax legislation Congress passed on December 18 was a $686 billion 10-year package. In it, Congress made permanent two recent expansions of tax credits that support low-income, working families: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Over the next 10 years, this will put $118 billion in the pockets of low-income working Americans. This will keep 16 million people from falling into poverty or deeper into poverty and it will help the economy by putting money in the pockets of people who will spend it at local businesses.

Congress also renewed the American Opportunity Tax Credit. It provides a tax credit of up to $2,500 per year for the costs of college. This will give a helping hand to millions of families struggling with the costs of higher education.

Overall, nearly 40% of the tax breaks in this legislation – approximately $250 billion – benefit working Americans who are overwhelmingly low- and middle-income. Typically, when the year-end tax cut package is passed low- and middle-income Americans have gotten just 20% of the tax breaks. So this year, with advocacy by many progressive leaders and activists, the benefits for working families were double what they usually are. [2]

This is the difference that political activism can make. Thank you to all of you who contributed your time, efforts, and voices to this fight.

Nonetheless, corporations got more than $400 billion in tax breaks. For example, heavy lobbying by Wall Street financial institutions made permanent a supposedly temporary, major tax loophole that makes it easier to stash profits offshore and avoid taxation here at home. This $78 billion (over 10 years) tax loophole has helped General Electric go five straight years without paying any federal income tax, and instead getting billions in refunds. Another offshore tax loophole was extended for five years at a cost of $8 billion. A special tax provision on the depreciation of equipment, intended as a temporary measure to fight the 2008 recession, was extended for another six years costing $28 billion in lost corporate tax revenue. Corporate lobbyists helped draft the language of at least some of these tax giveaways.

The hypocrisy of the supposed deficit fighters in Congress was on full display. None of the $400 billion in corporate tax breaks was paid for; their cost was simply added to deficit. Not one loophole was closed or tax subsidy eliminated to pay for this largesse. Yet when a provision to extend benefits for 9/11 first responders came up, the supposed deficit hawks insisted that it had to be paid for with spending cuts and new revenue!

My next post will cover highlights of the year-end spending bill.

[1]       Moyers, B., 12/22/15, “The Plutocrats Are Winning. Don’t Let Them!” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/12/22/plutocrats-are-winning-dont-let-them)

[2]       Clemente, F., 12/22/15, “Families Advance With Recent Tax Bill, But Corporations Got a Lot More,” The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-clemente/families-advance-with-rec_b_8861986.html)