Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The facilities gap

There's been a lot of discussion here -- and in statehouses and supreme courts across the country -- about adequacy and equity. The more I study this, the more it becomes apparent that the root of most -- not all -- education problems is funding. Steps have been made in the last several decades to equalize funding, but remember it was only 50 years ago that segregation officially ended. And it was only in the 1970's that schools began to see an increase in funds based on the number of kids in poverty, special ed, and bilingual ed programs.

There is no doubt, we have come a long way.

The next big step, though, must be facilities funding. The vast majority of states tie their funding to local property taxes. This creates obvious inequalities. States need to ensure that property taxes are collected by the state and distributed evenly. Yes, the suburbs will cry foul, but without taking that step, there will be a permanent underclass of school districts. And that's bad for everybody because it means there will be more people in our prisons and more people dependent on welfare programs. Those costs are a lot higher than the costs of creating an equalized system.

Here's the test we all need to take. Imagine that to determine where your child will go to school, we will put all of the names your state's schools on a wheel and give it a spin. Wherever it stops, that's where your kid goes. Would you feel OK with that risk? Probably not. All states have some districts (and we all know where they are) that are clearly deficient. We must equalize facilities spending.

I understand that money is not everything. But neither is instruction everything. What goes on in the classroom is largely dependent on the condition of that classroom. Is it in a portable building? Is the furniture comfortable? Is the roof leaking? Is there mold in the walls? Are there computers in the room? These questions are important.

Too many states are failing large numbers of school districts and thus, large numbers of children. Where's the accountability for that?

Before we talk about achievement gaps, we need to talk about funding gaps and facilities gaps. We need to talk about creating equitable funding systems. Without this, no amount of testing will improve the quality of education or the quality of America's workforce.

By the way, an anonymous poster suggested that I act too wise for my own good. Please allow me to say, there is a hell of a lot that I don't know. I do this because I want to learn. I hope Jenny D. and Eduwonk and others that I argue with know that I do it with deep respect, even when I do get snarky. I appreciate the dialogue, the knowledge, the free exchange of ideas, and especially the conflict which leads to new insights and ideas.

1 Comments:

Blogger Tom Hoffman said...

I think you're overplaying your hand a bit here. It is important to remember that it is not just the school expenditures that count. Creating a perfect school in a blighted neighborhood can be like transplanting a new kidney into a corpse.

8:21 AM  

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