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Blog: What are some of the funding equity implications of the NCLB reauthorization bills? by Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Did you hear the news? The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is going to be reauthorized! Or is it? In July of 2015, the Senate and House both passed separate bills to reauthorize the du jour version of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. A Senate version, the “Every Child Achieves Act” (ECAA), is believed to be the most plausible to pass into law given President Obama’s eagerness to veto the House version coined the “Student Success Act” (SSA). Currently, leaders in the two chambers are conferencing to work through some of these bills’ key differences in an attempt to create legislation that will pass Congress. This would be the first ESEA reauthorization since 2002.  Both Republicans and Democrats agree that NCLB needs revision but for vastly different reasons. Most recent newspaper reports and commentary focus on ECAAs reduced federal accountability, leaving accountability oversight to states. The federal government would still require annual standardized testing in grades 3-8  but would no longer use those test scores to punish “failing” schools that do not meet adequate yearly progress. States would be given latitude to decide how those asessment are used to measure school and teacher performance; somewhat of a political compromise. Less federal government for the Republicans and less punitive consequences for the Democrats, the language and tenor seem like a win-win. The ECAA has gained signficant support from mainstream liberal and conservative groups, viewed as an improvement over an outdated bill, long overdue for revision.

With the President, House, Senate, and mainstream populus all applauding this effort, it should be recognized that ECAA is in no way a game changer, requiring so much more in order to treat all students equitably.   We cannot forget that the ESEA was created in 1965 during the civil rights movement. Education is seen as the great equalizer to racial and economic diparities. It is imperative that any reauthorization of the ESEA safeguard and uphold the equal educational opportunity of all students without falling prey to deficit thinking that perceives these populations as unable to learn without remediation. In particular, those students in poverty, Native Americans, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities, have historically been touted as benefiting from the benevolence of supplemental funding, with no assurance of a high quality program of instruction, or the necessary resources required in order eliminate the opportunity gap that still exists in contemporary society.

There are a few school funding equity issues that I feel obligated to highlight related to any reauthorization of either the ECAA and SSA.

  1. Pervasive underfunding of public education

The percentage of federal revenue generated to fund K-12 public schools accounts for approximately 10% of local school budgets. Local public schools are now more dependent upon federal revenue and local bonds and overrides due to decreasing state and local revenue. One of the chronic issues with the NCLB Act was that it was never fully funded. Historically, we have tried to fund public education on the cheap. The Congressional Budget Office projects similar funding patterns to continue. With congress already setting limits, before discussing what is possible, the K-12 public school system will continue to be shortchanged. Congress needs to increase overall funding to effectively implement programs in a comprehensive manner to support state and local efforts.

  1. Diverting funds away from traditional public schools

Any proposed legislation or policies must ensure that public funding is limited to public schools, including Title I funding. Any reauthorization should prohibit diversion of public school funds to for-profit charter, private and religious schools. For instance, the Title I “student portability” caveat, if left unrestricted would allow public dollars to flow into private and/or religious schools with no accountability to the public.

Both bills would expand funding for charter schools (including for-profit) into one program through replication of any “high-quality” charters. On the surface, new changes to charter school funding are ideal, allowing parents to use their child’s funding in schools that are “successful,” but neither bill takes a stance on the depleting affects of funding diversion away from existing schools and districts. We need to make sure we fully fund public schools before we divert resources toward “innovative” charter schools. We should focus on innovation in our traditional public schools.

  1. Lack of accountability to serve traditionally marginalized populations

Any proposed legislation must ensure funds are used to provide services to the students they are intended to serve. The term “flexibility,” as applied to school funding, usually means “let me do whatever I need to do with this money,” without any accountability. Local administrators may find this flexibility liberating but in practice this could lead to significant unintended consequences for underserving populations most in need. In addition, the notion of collapsing Title I funding with other sections of ESEA (i.e., ELL, Native American), to gain more flexibility would lead to similar problems of potentially underserving and dually underfunding targeted students. We need funds to not only “supplement, not supplant” education, but should hold schools accountable to properly serve historically underserved populations.

The long overdue reform of NCLB would be a necessary but incomplete first step towards improving our K-12 educational system. Based on the ECAA and SSA bills, many equity issues would remain unresolved and many students would remain underserved. The question is how much longer can our children wait until we achieve a truly equitable system of education, bolstered by meaningful, transformative legislation?

Further readings

Duncan, A. (2015, February 12). It’s Past Time to Move Beyond No Child Left Behind: Addressing America’s Teachers and Principals. Retrieved from http://blog.ed.gov/2015/02/its-past-time-to-move-beyond-no-child-left-be...

Jimenez-Castellanos, O. (2012). Revisiting the Coleman Report: Deficit Ideologies and Federal Compensatory Funding in Low-Income Latino School Communities. Association of Mexican-American Educators Journal, 6(2), 48-55.

Jimenez-Castellanos, O. (2010). Relationship Between Educational Resources and School Achievement: A Mixed Method Intra-District Analysis. The Urban Review, 42(4), 351-371.

Jimenez-Castellanos, O. & Okhremchouck, I. (2013). Entitlement Funding for English Language Learners in California: An Intra-District Case Study. Educational Considerations, 40(2), 27-33.

Jimenez-Castellanos, O., & Topper, A. (2012). The Cost of Providing an Adequate Education to English Language Learners: A Review of the Literature. Review of Educational Research, 82(2), 179-232.

Ravitch, D. (2015, November 15). Edweek: Deal Near to Revise NCLBRetrieved from http://dianeravitch.net/2015/11/15/edweek-deal-near-to-revise-nclb/

U.S. Department of Education, For Each and Every Child—A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence, Washington, D.C., 2013.  Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/eec/equity-excellence-commission-report.pdf

Walker, T. (2015, July 16). U.S. Senate Passes Every Child Achieves Act, End of NCLB Era Draws Closer. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2015/07/16/u-s-senate-passes-every-child-achieves-ac...

Author Biography

Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos is an associate professor in Education Policy and Evaluation in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers and Morrison Institute Faculty Fellow at Arizona State University. His primary area of research is school finance equity and adequacy in particular as it relates to traditionally marginalized communities. He has published in leading academic journals such as Review of Educational Research, Journal of Education Finance, The Urban Review and Journal of Latinos and Education. He is currently working as a school finance expert witness in the Martinez case and organizing an AERA 2016 presidential session entitled, Public Scholarship to Inform Public School Finance In a Culturally Pluralistic Democracy: A Town Hall Meeting.