To the Editor:
In the Commentary “Neglecting the Broken Foundation of K-12 Funding” (May 18, 2016), law professors Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Kimberly Jenkins Robinson make the argument that the funding of public education is broken and beyond repair.
Having spent my career involved with statelegislative funding formulas, I would agree that school funding is the most important component regarding the reform of public education. The authors state: “Most states have failed to create school funding systems ... for all children to receive equal access to an excellent education.” However, education excellence is not a requirement of any state constitution. Funding formulas may be imperfect as their authors attempt to reflect the constitutional mandate to provide education, balance taxpayer burdens, and serve every community.
Utilizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez decision, the Commentary authors ignore that nearly every education finance distribution formula has already been challenged. This is because Rodriguez determined that public education was not a federal function and thus, by definition, solely controlled by a state constitution and a state’s legislature. Some of these challenges have met with success, while others have failed. The suits continue to this day.
The Commentary authors also state that most states refuse “to devote funding to disadvantaged students for the resources needed to compete with their more advantaged peers.” Having served as the lead expert witness in numerous state education-finance constitutional challenges over the past 30 years, I have never observed a legislature refusing to fund disadvantaged students. The vast majority of legislatures allocate specific monies in a variety of categories, e.g., free and reduced-price lunch, English as a second language, special education, and a variety of weights to offset such issues.
Each state legislature has a unique formulaby which it raises and distributes monies to school districts. If the authors wish to reform education, they should understand the nature of how public education is funded.
R. Craig Wood
Professor of Educational Administration and Policy
University of Florida
A version of this article appeared in the August 03, 2016 edition of Education Week as Reader Challenges Authors’ Stance on School Funding