The Center for American Progress recently released two reports that question whether the traditional reliance on local funding for education is viable for meeting the United States’ equity and adequacy needs in the 21st Century. In Governing American Education, author Mark Tucker compares the U.S.’s education funding system with the systems in half a dozen other countries, and calls on Americans to rethink the way we approach education policy. In Canada’s Approach to School Funding, Juliana Herman shows how three Canadian provinces eliminated local funding for schools and opted instead to bestow all of the responsibility on the provincial government. Both reports stress that by centralizing responsibility for education funding, “many high-achieving countries have attained greater equity in their systems of school finance” and they “should serve as examples for how U.S. states could implement more equitable funding schemes.”
The first report highlights the unfair disparities in educational opportunities for children that result from the current funding system, and emphasizes that such inequity has harmful consequences for the nation as a whole. Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and Economy, asserts that while other high-wage countries are redesigning their education systems to meet the challenges of a global economy, the U.S. remains “an international outlier” in its lack of centralized control. Unlike countries such as Australia, Japan, and the Netherlands, which have strong ministries of education at the state or national levels, the U.S. has a multitude of competing power centers that result in disjointed and inadequate education policies. Tucker stresses the need to consolidate authority at the state level and provide the necessary funds for state education agencies.
Among the report’s recommendations is the end of letting local property wealth determine school funds.
“Our system of local control enables rich people to tax themselves at very low rates, while at the same time producing such high levels of funding that they are able to hire the best teachers and build the finest facilities in the state. The same system requires poor families to congregate in poor school districts where they must tax themselves at very high rates to get the worst teachers and the worst facilities.”
Instead, Tucker contends, school funding should be the responsibility of the state.
The second report looks at how Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario – Canadian provinces whose government organization is similar to the state level in the U.S. – changed their school funding systems to achieve greater equality, and draws similar conclusions about potential benefits of centralized funding in the U.S. Herman, a policy analyst with the Center for American Progress’ Education Policy team, shows that in each case, the province successfully took full responsibility for funding its education system. Factors such as the role of property-tax dollars and local authority to raise additional funds varied according to the provinces’ specific needs, but Herman argues that for all of them, the shift has led to a broader tax base and a more predictable and evenly dispersed school revenue stream.
The reports illustrate that the failure to educate all students is not just a problem for low-income communities and the students who miss out on educational opportunities; Countries that cannot provide a high-quality education to all citizens will lose out in the global economy to countries that can, and their overall standard of living will decline. Both reports emphasize that equitable school funding is “an essential factor in creating a system in which all students have access to a high-quality education,” and present their analysis as a starting point for a larger conversation on re-conceptualizing the education system in the U.S. Herman also points out one of the potential pitfalls of centralizing funding at the state level: a conservative administration may utilize central authority to more efficiently reduce over-all spending on education.
May 29, 2013