The way schooling is paid for in the United States needs to be radically changed so that all students have equal opportunity, big names in education policy said at the first meeting of a new commission set up by the Obama administration to examine the impact of school finance on educational equity.
“You couldn’t design a scheme [of school finance] better to put children in the worst circumstances than the scheme we have now,” asserted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., at the meeting last week in Washington of the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. Mr. Fattah, along with Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., are not commission members but were lead sponsors of legislation to create it.
The panel of 28 education advocates, scholars, corporate executives, and lawyers plans to hold three more meetings and report back on how school financing at the local, state, and federal levels of government should be changed.
David G. Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, N.J., said that “the problem with the finance systems is that they are completely disconnected from the resources kids need to meet [academic] standards.” He suggested that the need for resources is greater for children from low-income families or families that don’t speak English.
Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said that policymakers are “stuck into thinking about very marginal kinds of changes in the U.S. educational system.” Only dramatic changes will produce significant results in student performance, he added. In an interview, Christopher Edley, a co-chairman of the commission and the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, said the commission plans to rethink the government’s role in school financing. “One of our jobs is to think not around the corner but over the horizon,” he said.
Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix and a co-chairman of the commission, added in the same interview that the commission’s review “isn’t limited to what federal programs to change.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 2011 edition of Education Week as New Equity Panel Digs Into Funding