As 2019 legislative sessions unfold, we’ve seen a flurry of legislative and gubernatorial activity around school finance. Behind the scenes and on the ground, state advocates continue sustained, multi-year, hard-fought campaigns for funding formulas that increase funding where kids need it most and build in student-centered policies to improve equity and expand opportunity for kids.
Over time, advocates know that the opportunity to fix a funding formula is rare. Decades can pass before a state re-opens their funding formula, meaning any formula changes this session will impact kids for generations to come. So, advocates are working both to solve problems of today while anticipating future challenges and opportunities, such as holding schools accountable for how money is spent, handling a recession, and unlocking personalized education and school autonomy through school funding.
Below is a look at some of ways PIE Network members are advocating to improve funding formulas in 2019 and beyond.
In Texas, after the School Finance Commission released its school funding recommendations, the Governor declared school finance reform an emergency item for the session, allowing the legislature to work on the issues right away. PIE Network Member Texas Aspires applauded the Governor’s decision. As the state mulls over the best approach, Texas Aspires is pushing for the formula to include funding for districts to design merit-based educator pay systems like the one in Dallas and formula funding for full day pre-k for the state’s most vulnerable students.
Advocates in Massachusetts have been pushing for the state to fully fund and update its outdated foundation formula. The current system has not been updated since 1993 and does not account for enrollment changes and the rising costs of healthcare.
Three bills have been filed in Massachusetts proposing changes to the state’s school funding formula to address deficiencies including the rising costs of employee health care and special education as well as the increased costs of educating low income and ELL students.
The Governor’s FY 2020 budget and accompanying legislation calls for an increase in funding of $1.1 billion to occur over 7 years. He is also proposing funding specific programs and increasing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s power to intervene in low-performing schools.
Before the proposal, Network Member Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) issued a statement signed by 25 business organizations urging state leaders to resist writing a blank check for education. The statement said: “The solution is not just more funding. How the money is spent matters.”
In response to the Governor’s proposal, PIE Network Member Stand for Children Massachusetts is encouraging supporters to contact their legislators and tell them to take up the funding proposal and dramatically shorten the timeline for additional funding. Their website, fairfundingma.org, provides community members an easy way to get involved.
In Delaware, which does not currently use a weighted funding formula, a pending lawsuit argues the funding system is unconstitutionally inadequate and inequitable. The Rodel Foundation and DelawareCAN, both Network members, have been key members of the Education Equity Delaware coalition of advocacy organizations that have been advocating for a student-centered funding system since 2016. The coalition has advocated for increased transparency on school spending, additional resources for high-needs students, and a new formula that allows funding to follow students. Recently, Governor Carney proposed an additional $60 million in weighted funding for low-income and ELL students.
A few additional states have taken up funding reform measures, with Network members tracking and working on the issue. After three years of work by the a legislative committee on the funding formula, Idaho legislators unveiled the first draft of a funding formula bill. In Kansas, the legislature passed funding reform in 2017 that included funding for pre-k to appease a court ruling. In July, the court ruled the legislature must add an inflation index to the plan in order for it to be constitutional. Similarly, in New Mexico, a state court ruled the current way schools are financed is unconstitutionally inadequate last year. Lawmakers were given an April deadline to fix the formula.
PIE Network continues to track and provide support to our members on school finance. To connect with advocates and experts on this issue, please reach out!