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Boehner’s D.C. Scholarships Don’t Amount To Getting ‘Serious’ About Education Reform

Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says that H.R. 471, which reauthorizes the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, is a way for us to get serious about education reform:

So if we’re serious about bipartisan education reform, we should start by saving this successful, bipartisan program that has helped so many underprivileged children get a quality education. I urge the House to support and save this important program.

Republicans estimate that the program — which they voted yesterday to revive — has made funding available for 3,000 D.C students. But they have little to say about ways to reach the other students stuck in the 10,000+ low-performing schools across the country. As Ranking Member of the Education and Workforce Committee George Miller (D-CA) stated:

If you really care about school reform…you have to do it in a sustainable and systemic way. All children in this country deserve to be held to high standards, to be in classrooms that are safe and to have access to the special needs services to which they are entitled under federal law.

“Getting serious about education” requires addressing the deeper funding issues that affect all students, starting with fiscal equity. Equal opportunities for students are hindered by inequitable funding formulas at the state and district level as well as under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Studies show that students attending high-poverty schools actually need more funding to achieve at the level of their wealthier counterparts, but reality shows us shortchanging our students.

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A number of districts and states have taken laudable steps to begin tackling fiscal equity. The Oakland Unified School District, for example, now uses a Results-Based Budgeting system where a minimum total expenditure level is developed for all schools and real school budgets (including the actual costs of teacher salaries) are adjusted up or down to meet that expenditure level. Schools with lower staff expenditures receive additional funds to spend on resources intended to increase academic achievement.

Moving to fair funding systems will also require action at the federal level. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act currently allows districts to conceal considerable gaps in actual spending between high and low poverty schools, and reauthorization should address this lack of transparency. Boehner is on record as saying that he wants to give some children in need “a way out of our most underachieving public schools.” The question now is when and how our nation’s policymakers will devote the political will to ensure a fair education system for all.