Underfunded or underwhelming?

, Lindalyn Kakadelis, Leave a comment

Raleigh, N. C.~The New Year is upon us, prompting a look at the year ahead. For education reformers, this year will bring a mix of the old and the new, as lawmakers bridge the gap between the lingering stalemates of 2006 and the policy innovations of 2007.

At the national level, Congress will begin the reauthorization of President Bush’s landmark education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Policy recommendations to overhaul NCLB will run the gamut, with some legislators pushing for fewer regulations while others insist yet more mandates are necessary.

Accountability will be a bone of contention; in fact, state tests are already in the hot seat as pressure for a national test builds. Support for a national testing program is coming from unlikely places. Just this week, Republicans including the Fordham Foundation’s Chester Finn, called for replacing our state-based testing system with a national test and standards. Squaring off in the other corner, partnerships like Fair Test advocate more local control and limited standardized testing.

At the state level, the North Carolina General Assembly will convene at noon on Wednesday, January 24th. Members will introduce hundreds of new bills during this long session. Past years have yielded unsuccessful attempts to eliminate or even raise the charter school cap; hopefully, this year, lawmakers will pass legislation opening the door for the creation of more charter schools. Legislators are also expected to tinker with the allocation formula of the education lottery, even though the lottery
will probably bring in $75 million less than anticipated. Finally, hot-button issues of high school reform, teacher licensing/certification, and our ever-growing education budget will undoubtedly capture the attention of lawmakers.

While state legislators sift through budgetary priorities, they ought to consider the perplexing relationship between spending and academic performance. Judge Manning (presiding over the Leandro school funding lawsuit in North Carolina) has found that lower-performing high schools in our state actually spent more than higher-performing schools. His findings (along with numerous other studies) put the lie to the notion that more money automatically yields better results. Yet the education establishment has little patience for this kind of data. Expect them to push for still more government dollars in 2007, rather than seeking flexibility in current spending policies or regulations.

This is a big mistake: according to a new report released by the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust, ill-conceived funding regulations may worsen the very problems they were intended to correct. According to Funding Gaps 2006, “School finance policy choices at the federal, state, and district levels systematically stack the deck against students who need the most support.” In fact, Title I (the federal program benefiting low-income students) formulas actually exacerbated funding
gaps between rich and poor states. The report’s recommendations to promote greater equity include adopting a system of weighted student funding (WSF).

And weighted student funding just may be the answer to our widespread spending disparities. The idea is both new and exciting. Fortunately, you can learn more about WSF at the Alliance’s January 9th event in Charlotte, “The What and the Why of Weighted Student Funding.” Featuring one of the nation’s preeminent experts on weighted student funding, Dr. Bryan Hassel, this luncheon event will deliver critical information on this promising reform and its potential impact on education appropriations. Register now to reserve a spot and join us as we kick off a New Year in education!