Boxing for Equity, Where Is Your Arena?
School leaders across the nation are preparing for a yearly bout with their school budget. In this annual match, the goal is to victoriously extract out of their monetary allocations the measurable outcomes that mark their school as distinguished. Akin to seasoned boxers, leaders leverage their rituals and routines, studying the opponent, analyzing how their investments impact student achievement in test scores, attendance rates, suspension statistics, and the like. Those armed with a lens for equity, ensure their review includes careful study of how the most marginalized students perform in comparison to their counterparts.
Although equipped with relevant data, and fortified with decades of educational research to support every strategic maneuver, school leaders often struggle to discern why they forever feel outmatched; as if hit with a “1-2 punch” before the starting bell rings. As a former school principal, I remember continuously crafting a plan that accurately fit the parameters of my allocation, yet simultaneously failing to fully address the scope of need manifested from the inequity faced by our student body, and it was painful. While our school attained the title of “top performing,” our performance never truly reached ALL students.
I don’t purport to offer a quick-fix set of steps to increase revenue, or a speedy remedy that leaders can use to more successfully utilize their resources to impact student achievement. Instead, for the educators who truly desire equitable outcomes, I hope to broaden the conversation beyond the school-level arena, increasing our preparation for the “1-2 punch” that comes, before the bout begins. The first swing, which can bring the most astute leader to a daze, comes in the form of state funding formulas. The second, packed with enough force to bring our strongest to their knees, is shaped by our current monetary system in the United States (US). Together, this “1-2 punch” can defeat our leaders, paralyze our schools, and prevent young people from accessing the equitable education they need to succeed.
To be clear, the effective use of current resources in schools is a critical arena for which to fight for equity. Studies show that the most marginalized students often have the least access to school-based opportunities like high quality teachers, rigorous grade-level curriculum, and/or engaging and culturally relevant pedagogy (Valencia, 2015). As such, more money is not the only answer, and at the same time, we must focus our attention on finances since those are what we use to support schools in their effort to deliver on the promise of education.
State Funding Formulas
A 2018 report outlines four indicators of funding fairness. One of the indicators, “funding distribution,” highlights how nearly 80% of the US (39 states) use funding formulas that are inequitable. In these states, the distribution patterns ignore the research-identified need for additional funding in high-poverty districts, thus ensuring that students from disadvantaged backgrounds remain disadvantaged throughout their educational journey (Baker, Sciarra, & Farrie, 2014). While the schoolhouse is touted as the great equalizer of opportunity, our state funding formulas fail to back that hope. Preparing for the first swing is about increasing our understanding and strengthening our advocacy to ensure a day where equitable funding can help drive equity-based initiatives in schools.
Hopes were raised in Illinois with 2017 legislation enacting Evidence-Based Funding, a formula geared to send more resources to districts that have the most students experiencing poverty. Yet, few were prepared for the SECOND SWING. Since the passing of the law, the state has only secured about half of what the formula calculates is needed to fully fund education (Rhodes, 2019). To grasp this phenomenon, we must analyze the way in which our money is constructed, and how that construction limits the availability of resources for public goods, like education.
US Monetary System
The Federal Reserve Act of 1913, among other things, authorized private banks to issue money into the US economy, not the US government. Driven by their own motives, banks set interest rates, and circulate money as debt, often as loans that must be repaid with interest. This system ensures that the private bank industry earns profits off the interest paid from loans that have been issued (Huber, 2017). These set of facts are at the heart of what caused the market crash of 2008, however, the US monetary system never changed.
The impact of a debt-driven money system on education is multi-fold. As an example, take a glance at any district or state-level annual budget and you will see the millions, and even billions of dollars that are dedicated to debt-financing, the repayment of debt, plus interest. These are dollars that could be going to educate students, yet instead are being paid mostly to private banks.
However, this does not need to be the way. One pathway toward change, called the N.E.E.D. Act was introduced in 2011, and would change our monetary system from debt-based to asset-based, ultimately securing additional resources for public goods, like education. Our understanding and advocacy at this level is a critical step to prepare for the “1-2 punch”.
I invite you to rethink the arena in which you fight. Too often we remain mired, “duking it out” with individual money trees, yet failing to see the full forest. Your arena is bigger than your schoolhouse! As you are invited to sit on advisory boards, or rub shoulders with elected officials, prepare yourself to advance a deeper agenda for equity – the future of your students is at stake!
Bruce D. Baker, David G. Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie, “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card” (report, Educational Law Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 2014).
Rhodes, D. (2019, January 16). It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: ISBE Wants Equity Now. Retrieved from http://www.nprillinois.org
Huber, Joseph. (2017). Sovereign Money: Beyond Reserve Banking. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.