As I sat down to pen this article, my mind took me back to all the years that I have been an educator and the evolution of best practices, multiculturally sensitive language, education reform and initiatives from one presidential administration to the next. Within the context of the public education sector, I have also seen and heard the reactions of boards, senior executive leaders, parents, concerned community leaders, businesses and teachers to neighborhood demographic changes that directly affect schools. Early in my tenure as a teacher, I heard educational catchphrases and political slogans like “all students can learn”, “fair but not equal” and “success for all” to name a few. Yet, while it was not called out as such in our staff, department or school leadership meetings as I recall, throughout this time, there was a constant, intentional conversation around equity in funding.
I am a person of color who grew up in the Southeastern Virginia post-Civil Rights era. And I subscribed early on to the dominant thread of educational achievement leading to a better life embedded throughout my hometown’s school community in Surry, Virginia. Our school district was predominantly Black, which I would later learn through my teaching career was an unparalleled reality in surrounding school districts and across the USA in general. In Surry County Public Schools (https://www.surryschools.net/), education was revered as the great equalizer and that was modeled by the majority of my teachers and administrators who were products of our school district. I would come to realize much later in my life through my educational career that great things happened for us because the board of education and superintendent were adamant about equity in funding for the low income families and students in need, which I now know dominated much of our school district. As a child growing up, I was not fully aware of the impact this had on the community. We were indeed an anomaly. Local, state and federal funding and even private donations were secured and capitalized for the purpose of setting students up with technical trade skills, foundational knowledge, acquisition of education fundamentals, higher-order and critical thinking and the desire to succeed that would make us career and college ready after graduation.
The Obama Administration focused its work to “advance equity in education” as stated in the article Equity of Opportunity (https://www.ed.gov/equity), which clearly identified inequitable funding in education as a concern. In 2011, a comprehensive study was done on schools in America. Among other findings, it revealed a consistent pattern of lower outlays for instructional staff salaries, teacher salaries, and non-personnel expenditures in Title I schools compared to the average for non-Title I schools in their district. (https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/title-i/school-level-expenditures/school-level-expenditures.pdf#page29). Essentially, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his team restated and validated the reality that many states were not sending additional resources to their highest poverty districts or to districts serving the most students of color, and across the country. However, these districts were in fact receiving less money than the districts serving the fewest students living in poverty and students of color. After these advances, work to improve equity in funding was not continued during the Trump Administration. Moreover, for many of my education colleagues and friends, Secretary Betsy Devos did not clearly pinpoint a clear direction for our educational system during her entire term in office.
Morgan Ivy and Amy Amerikaner found prominent funding gaps across schools and within each state in 2018 in “An Analysis of School Funding Equity Across U.S. and within Each State.” When they looked at the state of our public education fiscal affairs, Ivy and Amerikaner dubbed the numbers “disturbing”. “Whether you look at the national numbers or the state-by-state numbers, the pattern is disturbing: In 27 states, districts with the highest poverty rates do not receive more funding to account for that increased need. And in 14 states, the districts with the most students of color get less funding than districts with the lowest percentage of students of color.” (https://edtrustmain.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/20180601/Funding-Gaps-2018-Report-UPDATED.pdf). Although the results of this research shocks our conscience, it is not surprising. The fact is, many states are still not sending additional resources to their highest poverty districts or to districts serving the most students of color. These districts continue to receive less funding than the districts serving the fewest students living in poverty and students of color.
Moving forward, I suggest we hold three questions at the center of crucial conversations and decision-making around embedding equity in education funding. These conversations are more urgent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These questions are:
Does your school community have access to funding for programs and resources to specifically address students’ immediate needs? (e.g., surveying families and providing meals, hotspots and Chromebooks for those in need during the pandemic)
Have you elected officials who hold your educational perspectives closely and can advocate for legislation on your school community’s behalf beyond their campaign pitch?
Is there a clear understanding of what equity in funding means within your school community to guide your strategic plan of action toward progressive policy and planning reform?
Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay informed.
Dr. Mike Jones has served as a K-16 teacher, executive director, principal, leadership coach, teacher supervisor, and humanitarian for 25 years in the public and private education sectors in the USA, Jamaica, UAE, Slovakia, Nigeria, and Ghana. He is the host of Let’s Talk with Dr. Mike Jones, an online show that informs and connects the global education community through conversations about the impact of COVID-19 and how to respond to the opportunities to transform learning systems. Visit drmikeshow.com.
Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invited you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.