Though the economy may be on the road to recovery, public school funding is not. Across the nation, schools are being asked to make do with less money in an effort to control school district debt caused by funding cuts at both the state and national levels. School funding and its issues have been heard at the polls as voters must decide whether or not to approve tax increases or changes in distribution of tax revenues in order to help stem the tide of massive budget cuts. In Ohio this past spring nearly 44% of the tax issues on the ballots were for schools. School funding issues are a major concern for administrators and educators.
Public school funding is a complicated issue. Schools are being asked to provide a thorough curriculum in a wide range of subject areas and show that students have achieved certain academic standards. They must also provide for the special needs of their students be it learning disabilities, communication disorders, English-language learners or those from low-income backgrounds with limited outside educational enrichment resources. Ideally this needs to be accomplished through quality teaching, in small classrooms with the latest technology to give our students the tools to succeed in a technology driven society, no small feat given dwindling dollars in the budget.
Most public school funding is based on a formula of dollars per pupil raised through state and local taxes with the Federal Government providing less than 10% of the overall budget. In states/school districts where there is a high level of poverty, (national average for child poverty in public schools is 16% ), there are obviously discrepancies in what the local taxes can contribute and yet these students and the special education population are more expensive to educate. If in addition, as is generally the case, the teacher salaries are lower and the classroom size larger due to families not having the financial resources to pay for private education, these school districts have a harder time attracting quality educators.
All agree that when the federal stimulus money ends in 2012, many school districts are going to have a hard time managing to maintain the necessary staff and its accompanying need for health care benefits, not to mention the operational costs and maintenance of the buildings. Some charter schools have already had to close due to their inability to meet these fiscal demands.
Due to these combined factors, many people are asking for big reforms in the way money is distributed to the school districts and how the school districts themselves function. From the distribution standpoint, some would have the money divided up according to need to provide the best services, not tied to student numbers. Other sare promoting more money for those showing improved academic standards. In the way school districts function, it has been suggested that counties could share administrators, establish multi-county partnerships for providing services and some even advocate to doing away with established class sizes. There is even a grassroots movement that is demanding that big business to begin to contribute a more equitable share of tax dollars which in turn can be used to prepare for their entry into the work force.
Those responsible for public school funding need to approach the issue with a sense of developing an equitable system for all. Innovative measures are necessary to deal with school funding issues. Laying off teachers and increasing class size is not the answer. Our students deserve to be given the tools to survive the challenges of our ever changing society. We must change so they can grow.
What innovative solutions has your school integrated to manage their budget?