We must examine school funding

Published 11:02 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The citizens of Shelby County recently did the right thing when a vast majority of us voted to support the continuation of 30 mills in school taxes.

However, let’s not congratulate ourselves too much. Unfortunately this only prevented us from taking a step back.

There is much that still needs to be done to advance the agenda of providing fair and adequate funding for public schools in the state and in our community. In 2010 the Education Law Center released a National Report Card that examined school funding in all 50 states. It looked at fairness in school financing.

In this context, fairness refers to the extent to which funding is adequate to meet the needs of all students by taking into account the context in which education occurs, particularly the special educational needs of students in a particular area and circumstances related to poverty.

In this view of fairness, more resources should be concentrated in the areas of highest need. Specifically, the report looked at four measures of fairness: average state funding, funding distribution (does the state provide more or less funding to impoverished areas), effort (what proportion of available state funding is spent on education), and coverage (the proportion of students attending public school and the income disparity between those in public and private schools).

Alabama ranked 33rd and 38th respectively in terms of funding and coverage while it earned a letter grade of ‘D’ and ‘C’ respectively for funding distribution and effort. In addition, at $8,591 per pupil, the average funding that public education received in Alabama was well below the national average of $10,132.

Casual observation illustrates that Shelby County is not an exception when it comes to these disturbing trends in our state. For example, educational resources in the county are concentrated in the wealthiest and most affluent areas, not the most impoverished ones.

I’m certain we all want to ensure that every Alabama child gets the education they need to have a good life.

But the question still remains: are we willing to pay for it, not simply in terms of tax dollars but also in the effort it takes to reengineer education funding and delivery so that we serve all students equally well?

Kimberly Barrett is the vice president of student affairs at the University of Montevallo.