Home > Uncategorized > Complicated State Funding Formula Explained Effectively… OBVIOUS Reasons For It’s Failure to Achieve Equity Overlooked

Complicated State Funding Formula Explained Effectively… OBVIOUS Reasons For It’s Failure to Achieve Equity Overlooked

October 5, 2015

Google’s feed sent me an excellent article written by Dale Singer of Saint Louis Public Radio that explains with cartoons how the schools are funded now and how the funding formula evolved over time. The overview reminds me how little has changed in the 25 years since I served on Maryland’s Blue Ribbon Task Force and ongoing struggles to provide equitable funding for schools in the 42 states who have been sued over the past several decades.

The MO legislature used two approaches to achieve equal funding for all students: one based on an equity formula that was ultimately scrapped and one based on an adequacy formula the has been in place for several years. In the end, though, it matter less HOW the money is distributed. What counts is HOW MUCH money is applied to the formula. MO State Board of Education chair Charlie Shields provided a good synopsis of why the new adequacy formula doesn’t work:

A formula based on adequacy, he added, would work better, with one big condition: The state has to have the money to fund it fully.

The same thing could have been said about a formula based on equity… but it seems that whenever a legislature sets a goal for schools and money gets tight, the solution is to short-change the funding formula which, in turn, exacerbates the disparities. That’s what happened in MO:

The adequacy formula was set to be phased in over seven years, but the efforts smacked into the 2008 recession, when Missouri’s revenue took a big hit. It’s beginning to recover, but (State Education Department official) Lankford estimated that the state is still $450 million short of what the formula would call for. That translates to $6,110 per student, instead of the $6,716 the formula would call for.

The article quotes others as saying that until the formula is fully funded there is no way to know whether it works or not… and because fully funding seems improbable it is likely that another lawsuit will be in the offing and another generation of students will be shortchanged.

As I read this article, I felt that at least four other states I know of (MD, PA, NH, and VT) continue to struggle to find the “magic formula” for funding schools… and in each state they invariably find that in order to make ANY formula work more money is needed. Former MO State Supreme Justice Mike Wolff provides the best response to the rejoinder that “throwing money at the problem won’t work”:

“If money were unimportant, then people who live in the wealthier districts wouldn’t be so concerned about it, would they? But they’re sure interested in keeping the level of spending for their children at a higher level. I’m not faulting them for that …

“There’s no substitute for money. You can distribute it all you want to, but you have to have more of it.”


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