School funding to see changes across the country this year

School funding to see changes across the country this year

(Wash.) In nearly every part of the country, legislators are overhauling education funding formulas in an effort to increase equity in spending as states begin to show signs of recovery since the recession.

New legislation introduced in Washington Monday will, among other things, provide additional spending for schools serving higher numbers of high needs students, and those providing children with career and technical education opportunities.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Michigan, lawmakers have begun discussions centered on how best to craft bills that will do much of the same.

“Relative to our economic growth, we don’t put enough back into education,” Chris Reykdal, Washington superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “We rank ninth in the country in terms of our per capita gross state product. Yet less than three percent of that wealth is spent on public education. We need to do better.”

Education funding was one of the many areas cut across the country during the recession, and most states have yet to reach pre-recession levels of school spending even with recent budgetary increases, according to results from a survey of state budget documents released last year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Researchers found that a least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year  than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold, and in 15 of those states, cuts exceeded 10 percent. Additionally, while most states increased per-pupil funding in 2015, 12 states imposed new cuts.

The report suggests that, because approximately 46 percent of K-12 spending nationally comes from state funds, severe or lasting cuts in spending can undermine efforts to improve teacher quality, trim class sizes or provide high quality early education, as well as numerous other learning initiatives schools and lawmakers may hope to implement.

In a recent comparison of state education funding systems released by the Education Law Center, Washington raked 46 out of 50–a fact Reykdal said must change in order to move the needle on student achievement, improve supports in high-need communities and support educators.

Under a bill that received majority support after its first reading in the Senate on Monday, Washington’s current school funding allocation model for basic education would be replaced with a per-pupil guarantee model. Schools would receive additional funding targeted toward students with disabilities, homeless youth, English learners and low-income students, as well as those participating in career technical education programs.

The bill, which Reykdal said involves “fairly sweeping changes,” also includes provisions dealing with additional assistance for lower performing schools, school performance targets, school district flexibility, educator strikes, chronically absent students and teacher removal, among numerous other funding factors.

At the same time, lawmakers in Illinois are debating what must be included in a bill that the Legislature can realistically pass in order to make major changes to its own school funding formula for the first time in 30 years. Sen. Sue Rezin, R- Morris, told a local high school district board in December that the state needs a funding formula that recognizes the higher costs of educating students with disabilities, English learners and those from low-income families; but that such a bill will have to pass without taking any money away from districts that happen to receive more in property taxes.

In Iowa, inequity in school funding based on districts’ widely varied abilities to collect money from property taxes was the basis of a class action lawsuit recently brought against the state, in which plaintiffs argued the difference left nearly half of the schools underfunded.

One of the changes local education officials and advocates said they would like to see come as a result of the Iowa lawsuit include the allocation of more resources for schools that serve high numbers of high-needs children–a common priority among Washington and Illinois as well.

Recent court rulings on similar lawsuits in Kansas, Michigan and Connecticut have prompted lawmakers in those three states to also return this legislative session with a goal of rewriting their own state funding formulas.