How we fund our public schools matters; sufficient funding ensures all students have access to high quality educational opportunities that prepare them for a post-secondary option or a career path. Unfortunately, many of our schools are not well-funded and are struggling to educate all students to meet rigorous academic standards. This is partly due in how we finance k-12 education in our nation.
Property Taxes and State Aide
All schools in the United States have traditionally been funded by property taxes. The amount of dollars a particular school receives depend largely on their community’s property values and wealth. Affluent communities tend to spend more on education because their property taxes are higher, while low-income and even working-class communities tend to contribute a lesser amount to their educational system because they pay a lower tax rate.
As result, wealthy neighborhoods are more likely to afford current instructional materials, hire qualified teachers and staff members, and implement enrichment programs. While working-class and low-income areas are more likely to use their educational dollars entirely for staffing (teachers) instead of purchasing new books or other learning materials.
A number of low-income k-12 systems must then relay on their state to offset their funding shortfalls. However, state funding is not always a stable revenue source. When states cut school aid from their budgets, a number of these school districts are also forced to scale back educational services by laying off teachers and eliminating course offering to students. Students attending a limited-funded school district mostly will not have access to a high-level curriculum compare to their peers in a well funded school site. Unfortunately, this could impede their changes of graduating with the academic skills needed to be successful in a four-year college or a work place environment.
Solving Our School Funding Problem Would Mean More Taxes
Policymakers and educational advocates are divided on what to do. Some would like for every State to just equally distribute the same amount of dollars to every school district. This would eliminate the possible funding disparities among different communities. The only problem with this fix is that some groups of students cost more to educate because of the extra resources they require (i.e., special education and/or English Language Learner services). This would still cause a cash flow problem for a number of districts. All communities would have to raise taxes to offset costs.
Another possible solution is to use a “weighted student resource” strategy. Again, all schools equally receive the same amount of funding to operate their site. However, schools that enrolled specialized populations (i.e., Special Needs Students and/or English Language Learners) would get additional dollars to provide them with adequate services. This strategy could work. States such as California and Massachusetts are experimenting with this method.
Clearly, operating a school requires a significant amount of money and resources. If we do not address this issue soon, many school districts may be forced to offer an even more limited program of study or even a shorter school year. As a nation, we must somehow find a cost-effective way to finance K-12 education.