When we fund our schools, we should think less about money and percentages and more about funding equity. According to a recent article in Future Ed titled State Education Funding: The Poverty Equation, "The relationship between student poverty and academic performance is well-established; on average, economically disadvantaged students have lower levels of achievement than their peers, a gap that has not narrowed in the past 50 years."…Not surprisingly, schools and districts with high rates of poverty need more resources; one recent study found that in some states it would cost three times more per pupil just to achieve average student performance in districts with higher poverty rates than in more affluent districts…" In some respects, this money gap is supposed to be met with federal education grants available to schools that lie within poverty districts based upon income guidelines. But is it equitable to use the per-pupil cost of education by town or district as part of the funding equation regarding school choice?

"There are many different ways that we can define equity. The dictionary definition of equity is "justice according to natural law or right; freedom from bias or favoritism." When we talk about equity in education, we usually mean something similar to "fairness." But what does this look like in practice at the national, district, school, classroom, or individual student level? ( www.future-ed.org/state-education-funding-concentration-matters/ )

Much has been made of the difference between equity and equality. While equality means treating every student the same, equity means making sure every student has the support they need to be successful. In an equitable—as opposed to merely equal—classroom, each student is given the support and scaffolding they need to optimize their educational progress. The goal is for all students to work in their Zone of Proximal Development which is defined as "the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help." That may mean that:

  • Some students will have different expectations on an assignment, such as only writing three paragraphs instead of five.

  • Some students will have extra time to complete an assignment or other accommodations designed to meet their educational needs.

  • Some students will have resource teachers or aides that provide additional support in the classroom or in a pullout environment.

  • Some students will have resources provided at a different reading level or in a different language.

(Equity in Education: What it is and Why it Matters-Thought leaders-03122021-Thinking Maps (www.thinkingmaps.com/equity-education-matters)

Overview: RI State Education Aid Funding Formula

In 2010, the Rhode Island General Assembly enacted an education funding formula with an FY 2012 implementation date. In 2016, the General Assembly enacted some adjustments to the 2010 formula, which is the funding formula being explained in this guide. The formula is based on the principle that the money follows the student. Implementation of the formula has resulted in some local education agencies (LEAs) receiving increases in state aid to education and others receiving less funding. In order to provide a planning and adjustment period for the LEAs and the state, the formula includes a multi-year transition plan. The period for LEAs receiving additional aid ended in FY 2018, while the period for remaining LEAs is through FY 2021.

The formula includes a core instruction amount for all students, which funds several academic components of the student's day; a poverty factor adjustment to the core (known as the student success factor), which provides additional funding to support student needs beyond core services; and a state share ratio, which is calculated using municipal property values, median family income, and student poverty status. All data elements are recalculated annually.

The formula also includes categorical funding to support identified high-cost programs: career and technical education, early childhood programs, high-cost special education, English learners, non-public and regional student transportation, and a temporary bonus for regional school districts. There is a categorical fund with a statutory sunset provision to support communities that send a large portion of their students to charter and state schools. Additionally, there are stabilization funds for three state schools: Davies Career and Technical School (Davies), the Metropolitan Career and Technical Center (Met Center), and the Central Falls School Department, which are intended to stabilize these state-operated LEAs due to the loss of education aid. These funds have neither a financial cap nor a funding schedule.

In addition to state aid, municipalities contribute in varying amounts to their local school departments. These funds are determined solely by local control. Charter schools and the aforementioned state-operated career and tech schools do not have a municipality to provide direct support. The local/municipal funds those schools receive are determined by a local share calculation. The local share amount is calculated by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and publicized to all LEAs throughout the state. As a result, the per-pupil funding for a student attending a charter school or state-operated career and tech school is the same as a student attending a district public school.

As stated in the overview: This formula is based on the principle that the money follows the student. Those who advocate this funding principle state that the school that is losing the student has no right to keep the student's funding. I can't entirely agree with that reasoning because the school's budget is based on enrollment, classroom space allocation, instructors, overhead, and so much more. Teachers are under contract for the school year based upon the enrollment. If one student leaves the school, the cost does not change.

Looking at it from the charter school side of this issue, they also calculate their budgetary needs by student enrollment. That is why there is a lottery each year regarding the number of students they will accept for the upcoming school year. Public Charter Schools can also apply for and receive PPP loans under the Cares Act regarding Covid-19, while Public Schools cannot.

We pay state taxes. The state allocates money to the Department of Education who administers the money to the School Districts and the Public Charter Schools, and Quasi State Schools.

We pay municipal taxes. The municipality allocates money to the school district.

We pay federal taxes. The federal government supports schools in impoverished areas based on income.

The common denominator: We pay taxes, and a good portion of those taxes fund our children's education, all of our children.

So, is it equal or equitable? Equitable must be the answer. And, yes, equitable will cost more. But since we are paying the bill, let's look at some ways to save money: How about Regionalization of our School Systems by calculating an earnest plan and finding a way to make sure that the schools reap all the savings and benefits of that Regionalization Plan. How about redefining what a Public Charter School is? And let's look at the cost of educating our economically disadvantaged students, an education gap that has not narrowed in the past 50 Years! Are we reaching our goals in Special Education? And what about funding programming fir the academically talented and gifted students?

Our children and their equitable education are essential and must define our educational system.

Joanne Vecchio

Joanne is the former Assistant Finance Director for the Town of Cumberland as well as the former Coordinator of Accounting Service for the Central Falls School Department.

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