Education funding lawsuits against states on the rise

25 Jan

Moi has often said in posts at the blog that the next great civil rights struggle will involve access for ALL children to a good basic education. Sabra Bireda has written a report from the Center for American Progress, Funding Education Equitably

The old axiom that the rich get richer certainly plays out in the American classroom—often to the detriment of achieving academic success. Data on intradistrict funding inequities in many large school districts confirm what most would guess—high-poverty schools actually receive less money per pupil than more affluent schools.1 These funding inequities have real repercussions for the quality of education offered at high-poverty schools and a district’s ability to overcome the achievement gap between groups of students defined by family income or ethnicity.

The source of these funding inequities is not a deliberate scheme designed to steer more state and local funds to affluent schools. Rather it is often the result of an accumulation of higher-paid, more senior teachers working in low-poverty schools. High-poverty schools typically employ less-experienced, lower-paid teachers, thereby drawing down less of the district’s funds. The imbalance in funding created by this situation can total hundreds of thousands of dollars school by school.2 Archaic budgeting practices that track positions instead of actual school expenditures only serve to reinforce this inequity.

Aside from concerns about the inequitable distribution of veteran and novice teachers across schools, students attending high-poverty schools actually need more funding to achieve at the level of their wealthier counterparts.3 The federal government recognizes this fact with its allocation of federal funds under Title

I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. One condition of receiving Title I funds is that districts allocate state and local funds equitably to non-Title I and Title I schools before spending federal monies. The “comparability” provision was implemented to ensure that schools spend Title I funds on services meant to enhance educational opportunities for students at high-poverty schools and not to make up for unfair shares of state and local resources stemming from conventional management and budgeting practices.

The comparability provision should be a strong tool to correct the funding disparities created by an inequitable distribution of higher- and lower-paid teachers. But for years, districts have been able to evade true comparability between schools due to a loophole in the law. The loophole allows districts to demonstrate compliance without comparing the amount of actual dollars spent at each school. Instead, districts can show comparability by placing equal numbers of teachers, on a per pupil basis, at high- and low-poverty schools.

If a district does compare per-pupil expenditures, for example, the district can use a district-average teacher salary in calculations in place of actual salaries in school budgets. This common budgeting practice masks significant funding inequities. Under the current provision, districts can continue to receive Title I money even as their most high-poverty schools are deprived of fair shares of local and state funds.

The issues brought out by Bireda’s report are just one of a host of reasons why there must be equitable education funding.

Sean Cavanagh reports in the Education Week article, Lawsuits Say States Fail to Meet K-12 Funding Duties:

Even as they struggle to climb out of deep financial holes, states are facing lawsuits that contend they don’t meet their constitutions’ requirements to provide sufficient funding to districts and fail to provide resources for disadvantaged schools and student populations.

Ongoing or recently decided legal battles in Colorado, Texas, Washington state, and elsewhere underscore the challenges confronting states that have been battered by the extended economic downturn and are only beginning to see their revenues improve. The cases also highlight the political and ideological divides over school funding in many states, with some governors and lawmakers choosing to balance budgets by making deep cuts in spending—including for K-12—rather than raise taxes.

One of the more dramatic fights is taking shape in Texas, where four separate lawsuits—brought by an assortment of poor, middle-income, and wealthy districts, along with advocacy groups—have been challenging different aspects of the school finance system. Those cases are playing out in the shadow of deep cuts, more than $5 billion by some estimates, that lawmakers imposed last year on the state’s schools—reductions that school officials say have laid bare the flaws in the current system.

Although the outcomes of lawsuits in a number of states are not likely to be known for some time, the cases could result in courts’ directing legislatures to make fixes to school finance systems, as was the case in Washington state….

At least a dozen states are facing lawsuits that challenge some aspects of their funding systems, estimates Mr. Rebell, who is now the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity, at Teachers College, Columbia University, a nonprofit organization that advocates for fair funding across districts….

Risky Cuts

States may be especially vulnerable if they have made budget-related cuts, such as reducing instructional time, that courts believe disproportionately affect disadvantaged students, said James W. Guthrie, a senior fellow at the George W. Bush Institute, located in Dallas at the former president’s center. He expects the number of school finance lawsuits to increase as states struggle financially…

In Washington, that state’s supreme court ruled this month that the state is not living up to school funding requirements in its constitution. It directed the legislature to correct the situation over time, and it said it would monitor its work.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, has said she agrees with the court that the state must revamp its funding system. Changes are crucial, given recent, deep cuts to K-12 funding, said the governor’s spokeswoman, Karina Shagren. “She’s always said that the first dollars she gets go to education.”

Here are some resources from The National Education Access Network:

Educational Inequity and Inadequacy

Resources on Inequity and Inadequacy in America’s Schools

More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, there remain enormous inequities and inadequacies in the resources and funding provided to America’s schools. These inequities and inadequacies tend to favor wealthier, suburban school districts and often prevent students in urban areas, students from low-income backgrounds, and students from minority backgrounds from having an equal and meanginful educational opportunity. Here are some resources that outline these problems.

In May 2002, Michael A. Rebell testified before United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions during their hearing entitled “America’s Schools: Providing Equal Opportunity or Still Separate and Unequal.” His full testimony (PDF) provides a wealth of information on school funding inequities and inadequacies.

Issue Area Resources:

Funding: The Education Trust publishes a report every year entitled “The Funding Gap.” Here is the latest report, “The Funding Gap: 2005” (PDF).

Teacher Quality: The Education Trust published a report in June 2006 on the gap in teaching quality between higher- and lower-income districts entitled, “Teaching Inequality” (PDF).


Litigation-related Resources:

There are many cases from state courts where the court decision lists the ways in which education funding is inadequate.

For detailed background on the “adequacy” movement, read Courts and Kids: Pursuing Educational Equity through the State Courts (University of Chicago Press, 2009) by Michael A. Rebell.

For a more detailed historical background on school funding “adequacy” lawsuits, read “Education Adequacy, Democracy, and the Courts” (PDF), by Michael A. Rebell.

The first major school funding “adequacy” case is the 1989 Rose case from Kentucky. It is the “classic” ruling citing school funding inadequacies: Full Text of Decision | Background

Other major decisions include:

Other good sources include:

Last updated April 2010

All children have a right to a good basic education.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

7 Responses to “Education funding lawsuits against states on the rise”


  1. A new take on school finance from State Budget Solutions « drwilda - September 16, 2012

    […] Moi has often said in posts at the blog that the next great civil rights struggle will involve access for ALL children to a good basic education. Sabra Bireda has written a report from the Center for American Progress, Funding Education Equitably                                                                                     […]

  2. U.S. Supreme Court to decide the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Case No. 11-345) « drwilda - September 30, 2012

    […] Education funding lawsuits against states on the rise […]

  3. Courts are becoming the mechanism to force states to fund education « drwilda - January 29, 2013

    […] Moi has often said in posts at the blog that the next great civil rights struggle will involve access for ALL children to a good basic education. Sabra Bireda has written a report from the Center for American Progress, Funding Education Equitably […]

  4. Baylor University study: Unresponsive state policymakers make the racial achievement gap worse | drwilda - July 9, 2013

    […] Bireda’s report are just one of a host of reasons why there must be equitable education funding. Julia Lawrence writes in the Education News article, Study: Race Plays Role in Political Response […]

  5. California addresses school funding inequity | drwilda - August 22, 2013

    […] Education funding lawsuits against states on the rise […]

  6. U.S. Department of Education report: Still unequal after Brown | drwilda - April 3, 2014

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  7. Southern Education Foundation report: Juvenile justice education programs do more harm than good | drwilda - April 17, 2014

    […] Education funding lawsuits against states on the rise […]

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