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Art by Moy Zhong
Art by Moy Zhong

State fund formula requires restructuring

A strong public education system is the backbone of equal opportunity for Americans, but when that system grants lower funding to poor schools despite their students’ increased need, it fails to uphold their promise of equity.

Missouri is the 37th lowest spender on education in the country, according to teaching-certification.com, and part of how Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE) determines the distribution of taxpayer money to school districts revolves around their students’ test scores, attendance and adjustments based on local cost of living factors.

MDESE, however, should not factor scores and attendance into the distribution of the budgets, as it takes away valuable resources from schools who are already unable to effectively teach, making the situation worse.

Essentially, this aspect of the current system hurts high poverty school districts when they are already struggling to give their students the same opportunities as low poverty districts.
If the goal is to level the playing field between affluent and poor communities in Missouri, MDESE should change the system from the near poverty trap it currently is to one that gives funding to districts based more on student need.

A federally defined assumption says students in poverty cost school districts 40 percent more to teach. Despite this, the highest-poverty districts receive 16 percent less funding per student than low poverty districts, according to The US News & World Report. This disparity between need and given funds is disastrous not only in concept, but in actual application.

The 2015 Education Trust, a national nonprofit that studies equity gaps that affect disenfranchised students, report this spending deficit fails to meet the needs of students in poverty, stating, “the funding gaps between high and low poverty districts look even worse considering students in poverty are likely to need additional supports in order to succeed academically. In other words, simply offering equal funding isn’t enough.”
Furthermore, low-income districts are systematically worse off, with their students performing poorer than those in wealthier districts in part because of consistently lower teacher salaries at their schools, according to the New York Times.

Because of the low salaries, these high poverty schools must employ new and underprepared teachers who lack crucial teaching experience, according to National School Board Association. An international study titled, “Teachers’ Pay and Pupil Performance” links low teacher pay too low teacher performance and consequently, poor student academic results.

Allocating lower funds to these districts because of poor student performance is therefore counterproductive, and ought to be removed from any district budget criteria.
Attendance should stay separate from budgets as it further puts high poverty districts at an economic disadvantage, as students in high poverty communities are four times more likely to be chronically absent than their low poverty counterparts. Counting absences hurts these districts further, with a false hope of incentive.

The argument that rewarding the districts with high attendance and test scores encourages them to do better is fundamentally flawed, using a business model that, in practice, is not the correct approach. “Rewards undermine interest. If our goal is excellence, no artificial incentive can ever match the power of intrinsic motivation,” the “Harvard Business Review” said.

Policy makers and MDESE should change the current system of distributing funds to American public schools to one that works for all students regardless of their economic circumstances.

Taking away test scores and attendance from budget distribution can help the working class school districts begin to provide the academic opportunity that their students deserve. Improved teacher salaries present a pathway to fix the broken status of American public schools, the root of equal opportunity.

What are your thoughts on the current criteria for school funding? Let us know in the comments below!

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