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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Equitable Funding; The Money Doesn’t Add Up

By Peter DeWitt — March 10, 2013 4 min read
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I don’t want to be treated like everyone else. I wanted to be treated fairly.” Rick Timbs

Politicians like to pontificate that schools have received more money than ever before. In New York State, those same individuals (i.e. politicians, news media, etc.) like to say that they are #1 in spending but lag far behind in results. From an outside perspective it certainly does seem as though hundreds of millions of dollars are going directly to schools. Teachers, administrators, parents and other school officials would certainly welcome that idea.

The problem is that it does not always go directly to schools. It goes to education, which means the funding goes to the public school system, education departments (state by state), charter schools, and in New York State, this includes the Board of Cooperative Extension Services (BOCES). All of these constituencies are viable candidates for education funding but it spreads the funding among many, not just a few.

Over the years since NCLB, and currently with Race to the Top (RTTT), education funding has also consisted of competitive grants. Competitive grants are helpful for some schools but the issue is that with the lack of funding going to schools over the years, they do not have personnel to write grants, and some grants are so small they are not worth the time spent on the application.

When we look at how much money actually goes to schools we have to understand that it doesn’t go to schools...evenly. And this brings up the issue of equitable funding.

Equitable Funding
For the past few years we have heard a great deal about equitable funding from suburban schools. It’s interesting to hear about it from suburban schools because many urban and rural schools have been concerned about equitable funding for decades. However, things are a bit different now. The issue has hit the suburbs, which means everyone is trying to get their piece of the pie.

That is not meant to be sarcastic or flippant; it’s a reality. We all have driven on highways past city schools that did not get equitable funding. Some of us have even had the experience of teaching in them. Our students who play sports see what other schools have and what some schools lack. However, the issue has gotten a little larger lately because a majority of schools are not getting the equitable funding they need. This issue of equitable funding has, in a strange way, brought urban, rural and suburban schools closer together. They understand each other’s pain.

A month ago, Dr. Rick Timbs, a retired school superintendent from central New York, who is now the Executive Director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, spoke to a standing room only crowd in the Albany NY area (East Greenbush). His presentation about equitable funding for schools brought over 1,200 stakeholders from 49 districts together and actually caused a traffic jam on the interstate highway close to the presentation venue. Many of the people caught in traffic thought they were experiencing the public school version of Woodstock.

In his presentation Timbs said, “That with the Spitzer administration, schools thought they were going to get something more equitable but what they actually did was pour more money into aid, which seemed to mask the inequities. Everyone thought they were getting more but when they began to analyze it, they realized all schools were getting more.” Unfortunately, some of those schools didn’t need it.

Here is more of his description.

Gap Elimination Adjustment
One of the other issues for schools where funding is concerned, especially in New York State, is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). A few years ago New York State proposed a one-time GEA to schools. In the video below, Timbs explains that the GEA, “was the amount of money cut from school districts, to help solve the state’s gap in terms of their budget because they were running a deficit.”

Timbs clearly has an extensive understanding of the GEA.

If you want or need a simpler version, check out Justin Cortese’s Vimeo about GEA.

The GEA held funding of over a million dollars per year for many schools. Teachers, administrators and programs were cut. As schools got over the shock and started to move on, they once again were hit with a one-time GEA. Ultimately, the one-time GEA became a three-time GEA and it became the new normal for schools.

New York State schools have experienced one-time Gap Elimination Adjustment three years in a row, which brings the cuts into the millions for many schools. These are cuts they just can’t afford; especially at a time when they are trying to implement the Common Core, and teacher/administrator evaluation (APPR). In addition, schools are trying to prepare for when state assessments (AKA high stakes testing) go on-line which will also take a great deal of time and money.

In the End
Many organizations across the country have seen tough time. Their funding has been cut and people have lost jobs. When it comes to schools, there are many that have cut positions because of severe cuts to their funding, while other schools have continued to hire and build programs. As one school sees their fund balances dwindle to nothing, other schools have millions in the bank. This shouldn’t be happening.

These inequities are not the fault of the schools in need. Many of them have followed the rules, tightened their budgets, and tried to do their best to make sure there were still programs for students. Unfortunately, the property tax structure has not been kind to them and until politicians do something about the way schools are funded, these inequities will continue to happen.

• Do you have a Rick Timbs in your state?
• How do you ensure that your school district gets equitable funding for students?

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For more information about inequitable funding in NY State, check out Dr. Rick Timbs other videos on the Education Speakswebsite.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.