October 4, 2016 – Members of the Roosevelt Institute met to discuss Public Education Funding in the United States, led by Education Center co-directors Nicki Felmus and Guy Raber. Some of the questions they asked were: is smart spending or equitable funding more important? What role does the federal government play when it comes to funding public schools?
One of the most popular policy solutions was the “Robin Hood” funding model, in which the property taxes from wealthy districts in a state are redistributed to poorer districts. Proponents of this idea saw this as a way to relieve some of the stark funding disparities that districts in the same state can have. Opponents to this model stressed the need for smart spending, citing the statistic that Camden, New Jersey spends more than twice the national average per student, but 90% of their students are below proficiency in several key areas. This also served as a call to reconsider the idea that education is necessarily better served by more money. It was suggested that, in every state, a smart, targeted distribution of funds would have a bigger impact. This idea was met with resistance from those who argued that any infusion of money into the country’s poorest school districts would be helpful, if only in running their day-to-day operations or to pay their teachers.
Much of the conversation focused on programs that would operate outside of the traditional school day. There were multiple calls for universal pre-K, something that states such as Oklahoma, Florida, and New York already have, citing the fact that children who begin their education at an earlier age typically see benefits for their entire life. Others brought up expanded afterschool and weekend activities, designed to keep students engaged in their school communities. One member brought up an idea for busses that run several hours after the end of the school day, allowing students whose parents work to participate in these afterschool activities without needing to arrange alternate transportation.
Another popular idea was that of a universal minimum salary for teachers in public schools. This would prevent more skilled and experienced teachers from leaving poorer schools or districts for those that can pay them more. This would combat the “teacher brain drain” that many disadvantaged or underfunded school districts see. A related idea advocated for expanded partnerships with local private universities, a relationship that some schools already take advantage of.
There is, in all likelihood, no single solution to how we fund our public education system. Though specific policy proposals differed, everyone agreed that something needs to be done about the state of public education in the United States, and that many of its issues stem from insufficient or ineffective funding.