Getting Serious About Funding Disparities

The next step in the DC voucher farce, it seems, is that not only will House Republicans push for the DC scholarship program, John Boehner will propose supporting it as the sine qua non of “serious” education reform.

This is, plainly, nonsense. The underlying model of the program — deploy federal dollars to send some poor kids to private school over and above the existing public school system — plainly doesn’t work at any kind of meaningful scale and its Republican proponents have no interest in attempting to scale it up. As a DC resident, I’m happy if congress wants to send extra cash our way, but as my colleague Theodora Chang writes the real task is tackling systemic issues in American education like some of the nutty funding disparities allowed by current Title I rules:

“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.

One key issue here is the comparability loophole that instead of equalizing actual staff funding between rich and poor schools merely mandates “comparable” staffing. That means that if one school has three math teachers and another school has three math teachers, they’ve both got a “comparable” number of math teachers. This, however, is perfectly compatible with School A having a giant budget to pay veteran teachers while School B is stuck with a rotating cast of novices. Its like saying the LA Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers are “comparable” because they both have full rosters of basketball players without noticing that LA has $38 million more in payroll that they use to hire Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol instead of Daniel Gibson and JJ Hickson.