Child Poverty Rate Falls Slightly But Poverty Still Casts a Long Shadow

Earlier this week the Census released data for 2013 showing that child poverty fell to approximately 20 percent.  Despite the slight improvement, one in five American children still lives below the federal poverty line of $18,769 for a single-parent family of three.  According to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), “Almost 9 percent of children—6.5 million—were in ‘deeply poor’ families with cash incomes under half of the poverty level (around $9,300 in 2013 for a family of three.)”  Children are far more likely than adults to be poor, and children of color are far more likely to be poor than white children. Last year 38.3 percent of black children were poor and 30.4 percent of Hispanic children were poor, while only 10.7 percent of white children were poor.  According to CLASP’s report, “Children under age three had the highest poverty rates, and the prevalence of poverty was highest during these earliest, most formative years of children’s lives—with potentially lasting consequences for education, health, and other key outcomes.”

Writing for the NY Times on Wednesday, Thomas Edsall examines the issue of how to intervene in the cycle of poverty to help children transcend their parents economic circumstances.  Exploring a well-known Moving to Opportunity study, which tracked whether academic achievement improved for children whose families were given housing vouchers to move to less poor neighborhoods, Edsall explains that moving did not seem to improve the children’s accomplishments at school.  He interviewed Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, who points out that flaws in the study may have affected its results.  Wilson notes that while many of the families in the study left public housing, they “moved to segregated neighborhoods nonetheless, far from employment opportunities…. Social conditions were only marginally better than those they had left.”  Edsall also interviewed another Harvard sociologist, Robert Sampson, who explains that “many of the adults in the program had lived in extreme poverty for decades and that the children, who were on average 11 years old when they entered the program, had spent their early years living in adversity.”

Edsall concludes, “Multigenerational poverty is self-evidently more than a question of housing.  It is unlikely to yield to even the best-intentioned one-dimensional approach… We have to figure out a better way to approach intervention, whether it’s education-based or neighborhood-based or both.”

For a deeper exploration of the issues facing children who grow up in poverty, one can turn to a recently published and unusual longitudinal study of the lives of a sizeable group of children in Baltimore.  The authors, sociologists from Johns Hopkins University—Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson—tracked 790 children from 1982 when they entered first grade in twenty elementary schools in Baltimore until they reached adulthood. The children who are the subject of the study in The Long Shadow reside in several poor and working class census tracts.  Year after year the researchers interviewed the children, their families, and their teachers:

“Members of the Youth Panel were six-year-old children when we first entered their lives in 1982 and young adults when we exited in 2006.  Their voices are heard throughout this volume by way of wide-ranging conversations with them during the summers of 1995 and 1996, and in 2000 throughout the year, all well after high school.  These sessions—162 in all—asked members of the sample to reflect on their years growing up and to look ahead to their anticipated futures… The Young Adult Survey (YAS ) commenced in 1998 with 82 percent of the interviews completed that year…. Parents and teachers of the children also are represented.  Parents were interviewed up to eleven times from first grade to eleventh grade and teachers interviewed up to nine times, the last in ninth grade.”  School records were also collected for the study. (The Long Shadow, pp. 15-16)

It is impossible in a short blog post to do justice to this complex and fascinating study.  I urge you to find a copy of The Long Shadow.  These words from the book’s conclusion, however, shed light on the reasons Edsall struggles to find a satisfying solution to the persistence of the shadow of poverty.  As the children in their study grow up, Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson trace the many formative influences that make escaping poverty  so challenging:

“What ultimately determines well-being in adulthood is how young people negotiate the transition to adulthood, which is rooted in resources all the way back to first grade (and from other literatures, before first grade.)  We see that children are launched onto stable trajectories very early in life….  First, the SES of their schools aligns with that of their neighborhoods, and both trace back to the SES of their parents.  This configuration has the children of the urban advantaged trebly advantaged and their lower SES counterparts trebly disadvantaged across the social contexts that bear on their development, and this before they even make it to school.  Second, parents’ plans for their children are in place long before high school, and these plans are strong determinants of their children’s school performance and goals in life….  Parents’ ideas about their children’s future reflect their own social structural locations.  In addition, the foundational school curriculum in the early years is cumulative.  Not surprisingly then, when children of the Baltimore Youth Panel grow up with parents who have less than a high school education, their school careers tend to be foreshortened.  A few do move up by way of college, but just a few.  For the rest, their SES as adults reflects theirs as children” (The Long Shadow, pp. 187-188)

 

Washington State Supreme Court Holds Legislature In Contempt Over School Funding

Too frequently, even after a state supreme court finds the state’s school funding system unconstitutional, nothing much happens.  My state Ohio is the extreme example.  Three times the supreme court found Ohio’s school finance unconstitutional.  Then a fourth time the court spoke, reiterating that the system is unconstitutional but releasing jurisdiction in the case.  This meant the legislature no longer had an obligation to design a remedy.  Although the court found for the plaintiffs, nothing happened and nothing ever will.

Washington  state’s supreme court is taking a very different path.  In January of 2012 in what is known as the McCleary case, the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of the parent plaintiffs, and in the words of Joseph O’Sullivan of the Seattle Times, “ordered the state to increase education spending enough to fulfill the Washington state Legislature’s own definition of what it would take to meet the state constitution’s requirement of providing a basic education to all Washington children.”

Last week, on September 11, 2014, Washington’s supreme court spoke again to scold the legislature for dragging its feet.  In the original 2012 McCleary decision, the court gave Washington’s legislature what seemed like plenty of time to phase in a remedy—until the 2017-2018 school year, but the supreme court retained jurisdiction in the interim.  Last week the supreme court held the state legislature in contempt for failing to institute a time line that will ensure schools are fully funded by 2018.  The court has now given the legislature an ultimatum: get a remedy well underway by next year.  The Associated Press reports, “The court promised to reconvene and impose sanctions and other remedial measures if lawmakers do not make plans to solve the problem,” by the end of the legislative session in 2015.

Here is how—in the 2012 McCleary decision itself— the state’s supreme court justices interpreted the language of the education clause of Washington’s constitution.  Education spending must be “ample.”  “The word ‘ample’ in article IX, section 1 provides a broad constitutional guideline meaning fully sufficient, and considerably more than just adequate.  Ample funding for basic education must be accomplished by means of dependable and regular tax sources.  The State has not complied with its article IX, section 1 duty to make ample provision for the education of all children in Washington.”

The Associated Press reports that the legislature added $1 billion to the school fund in the recent budget, but cost studies that were the basis of the original McCleary decision indicated that the budget needs to be roughly $4 billion annually above the 2012 expenditure level. According to the Education Law Center, “Underfunded educational resources that the Legislature has identified as basic education include full-day kindergarten, more instructional hours for high school students, pupil transportation, a new formula for school staffing levels for smaller class sizes, and more state support for school equipment and supplies.”   Despite the foot dragging, legislators interviewed by the Seattle Times about the court’s recent action to hold the legislature in contempt seem to agree about the need for additional school funding. The ranking Republican on the House Education Committee is quoted: “We’ve always been under the assumption we were going to show some substantial remedies this cycle.”

Governor Jay Inslee commented: “I urged lawmakers to act this year and agreed with the court that we must do more to adequately fund education, which I believe is both a constitutional and moral obligation.”

PDK/Gallup Poll Says Americans Value Teachers and Want Teachers Supported, Not Punished

Too often lately when I read about teachers and teaching, I am bothered because I suspect the writer has never taught in any kind of school.  Even though I know that data from tests and classroom work has always informed teachers’ strategies for working with particular students, I am puzzled by people who assume that teachers keep in mind a compartmentalized mental file of each child’s standardized test scores as the key to strengths and weaknesses and a finite list of steps to be taken to erase the weaknesses. And I am troubled by statisticians calculating econometric formulas to measure the amount of knowledge particular teachers add to a child’s education.

To my mind teaching is an art, though teachers certainly need to inform their practice with what science tells us about psychology and sociology and child development. Teaching is relational.  It is not the mere imparting of bits and bites of information.  Teachers must come to know their students deeply and respect what each student brings to the relationship.  Teaching is about awakening interest, inspiring hard work, stimulating curiosity, listening, considering, supporting, encouraging and making students feel safe enough to learn from criticism.  Teachers need to be able to encourage students to analyze, be critical, and challenge authority while at the same time creating a safe and orderly classroom.  So much of today’s talk about teachers fails to consider what teachers really do.  When learning happens, there is a spark of connection.  Gloria Ladson-Billings titled her classic book about teaching, The Dreamkeepers; Sonia Nieto called hers, The Light in Their Eyes.

Even if I try, I find it meaningless to apply the “Value Added Measure” (VAM) concept to my experience with my favorite teachers. A lot of these measures would try to connect “value added” to the salaries I have been able to earn over the years—the economic value of my education.  While I certainly don’t want to scoff at the importance of my capacity to work, I don’t really value my own education at all from an economic point of view.  The teachers who took the trouble to connect with me, help form my habits of thought, encourage me to be and feel competent—these are the teachers I value, but I can’t measure the worth of my connection to my teachers or assign a numerical value to the experience.

Mike Rose, one of my favorite writers about teachers and education, describes what is rarely considered in much of today’s talk about schooling:  “I’m interested here in the experience of education when it’s done well with the student’s well-being in mind.  The unfortunate thing is that there is nothing in the standard talk about schooling—and this has been true for decades—that leads us to consider how school is perceived by those who attend it.  Yet it is our experience of an institution that determines our attitude toward it, affects what we do with it,  the degree to which we integrate it into our lives, into our sense of who we are.  We need to pay attention to the experience of going to school.”  (Why School?, 2014 edition, p. 34) I value my favorite teachers as the people who shaped that experience of going to school.

Today’s school reform—codified in the federal testing law No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and continuing in the Obama Administration’s NCLB waivers that require states to incorporate students’ scores on standardized tests into formal evaluations of teachers—has failed to address the social conditions that affect learning in our poorest school districts and has failed to invest seriously in resource equity across school districts.  It has framed a conversation about closing achievement gaps but ignored a wide set of opportunity gaps that must be closed. The ratings of schools and teachers incorporated into these federal policies are designed to blame school teachers, supposedly to motivate teachers to to work harder and smarter.  A significant number of policy makers these days also seem to believe that we can improve public education through a regime of firing and replacing teachers who are not quickly raising the standardized test sores of their students.

However, there is encouraging new evidence that while Americans’ views of school teachers have been affected by all this negativity, many people have managed to hold on to a more nuanced understanding of education and teaching.  Yesterday Phi Delta Kappan and Gallup released the second part of their annual poll of Americans’ opinions about education.  Much of the material released yesterday explored Americans’ opinions about teaching.  It seems that although public opinion has been influenced to some degree by the widespread trend of blaming school teachers, the majority of Americans have retained healthy skepticism about attacks on teachers.

William J. Bushaw, the chief executive officer of PDK International and author of an analysis of the poll’s findings about attitudes toward teachers and teaching, writes: “Once again, Americans have identified a blueprint to support public education, and it is centered on investments in classroom teachers.  That is not a quick fix, but other countries have had success with this strategy, resulting in unmistakable gains in student achievement.” “Americans said they believe teacher evaluation should be primarily designed to help teachers improve their ability to teach.  If we listen carefully to the opinions of Americans, we need to research better ways to evaluate teachers and principals that are not overly reliant upon how students perform on standardized tests.”

The PDK/Gallup poll this year indicates that 61 percent of Americans oppose using students’ standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The number of parents who have trust and confidence in public school teachers declined from 72 percent last year to 64 percent this year, but is still a wide majority. Fifty-seven percent of Americans still say they would be pleased if their child becomes a school teacher, down from 62 percent in 2005, but still a sizeable number of parents.

While those polled would like to see teaching improved, their focus—like Mike Rose’s focus—seems to be on improving the experience of schooling for America’s children by more thoroughly preparing their teachers.  Seventy percent of those polled would like to increase the length of the supervised student teaching experience to one year and make entrance requirements for teacher preparation programs more rigorous.  Finally 77 percent of Americans said the most important goal of evaluating teachers is not to punish but instead to “help teachers improve their ability to teach.”

Schools Open In Philadelphia, But Crisis Drags On

Superintendent William Hite opened school in Philadelphia on September 8—based, it seems, on hope and a prayer.  It can’t be said that he could really even count on the good faith of the Pennsylvania general assembly, whose members went home for their late summer break without even passing enabling legislation for the local school district to levy a $2-per-pack cigarette tax to help close what remains an $81 million budget deficit.

The state legislature returned to Harrisburg yesterday, September 15, and, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the House is expected to vote this week on the proposed legislation to permit the local cigarette tax.  Assuming House passage, the bill will then move to the state senate.

It is astounding that the financial morass created by the state of Pennsylvania for one of our nation’s largest school districts—and one that has been under state control since 2001—is not really being addressed.  William Green, chairman of the state’s own appointed School Reform Commission that functions like a school board, has been standing with Superintendent Hite in protest of the state’s policies, but to no avail.

When Hite announced on August 15 that the school district would gamble on future legislative action come mid-September, he did so, according to Education Week‘s “District Dossier” blog, by making cuts to programs that include: elimination of high school transportation for students within two miles of school, reduced services for 300 students pursuing multiple pathway to graduation, elimination of staff development for teachers even at schools facing severe challenges, cuts to cleaning and repairs in school buildings, elimination of 34 school police, and $800,000 in administrative cuts.  This is on top of the layoffs of thousands of teachers over the past two years and the closure of 24 school buildings in the spring of 2013. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook reports that Superintendent Hite intends the cuts he made in August to save $32 million; he hopes to restore some of these services if the cigarette tax can be enacted.

No one really knows how much the proposed cigarette tax would generate. The Notebook reports the cigarette tax is projected to provide $49 million this school year; according to Education Week’s “District Dossier,” “the cigarette tax is expected to generate between $38 million and $60 million.”  School finance experts would warn about counting on sin taxes for for a major percentage of a school district’s revenue stream, as well as imposing the least progressive kind of tax there is.  Of course, Philadelphia has little choice, as the state of Pennsylvania has reneged on its responsibility to support the schools adequately.

The Education Law Center reported last Friday that on September 9, in response to the years’ long financial crisis, Parents United for Public Education—a Philadelphia parent and community advocacy organization—filed a lawsuit to force the state’s Education Secretary “to investigate hundreds of parent complaints of massive deficiencies in city schools.”  Parents United for Public Education has been collecting filings of complaints by parents.  So far 825 formal complaints have documented dire school conditions which state law requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to investigate.  “Problems alleged by parents include alarming levels of overcrowding such that teachers can no longer walk between desks to interact with individual students, increasingly limited curricular offerings, a distressing and dangerous lack of counselors and school nurses, and squalid and insufficient toilet facilities.”

An attorney for the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is quoted in the Education Law Center’s report: “Secretary Dumaresq must know that responding to parents’ pleas with form letters and silence not only violates the trust of parents, but is also a clear violation of her department’s legal duties.”

For more detailed history of the ongoing crisis in the School District of Philadelphia, see previous coverage by this blog  here, here, and here.

There’s Something Happening Here

Last spring in a profound commentary the editors of Rethinking Schools magazine argued that school accountability based on high-stakes standardized tests merely disguises class and race privilege as merit.  While individual children of all economic and racial groups are likely to score all over the spectrum on standardized tests, in the aggregate scores are likely to be higher among privileged children.   And if schools in our racially and economically segregated society are judged by the students’ test scores, the schools serving wealthier children will appear to be doing a better job just because the children who attend the schools bring their privilege with them to school.

Ohio, like other states, ignores this reality by attaching its rating system for schools and school districts to the standardized test scores of the students. The state credits standardized test scores to the quality of the school district’s teachers and the curriculum and ignores other variables that might be affecting the test scores.

Ohio is currently in transition between a school district rating system that awarded ratings of  “Excellent, Effective, Continuous Improvement, Academic Watch and Academic Emergency” to our new system which will feature school district grades of “A, B, C, D, and F.” Next year districts will receive overall letter grades; late last week the Ohio Department of Education released complicated report cards for school district performance during the 2013-2014 academic year, report cards that award a miasma of letter grades and raw scores.  Most all the grades, however, are for scores on various standardized tests, with the graduation rate and attendance added in, along with a formula-based grade for “value added.”

In the concluding chapter of Public Education Under Siege, Mike Rose and Michael Katz address the trend across the states (including Ohio) to rate school districts on test scores alone: “Perhaps the greatest strength of the current reform movement is its focus on inequality… (but) Because reformers want to keep focus with ‘no excuses’ on the unacceptable performance of poor children, they insist on addressing outcomes (in the form of test scores) rather than on inequality of resources and social conditions.  This is an understandable strategy, but its narrow focus has a potent liability.  Poverty itself tends to be pushed out of the picture.  Poverty is mentioned, but in a variety of ways it is downplayed.  So all the damage poverty does to communities and to households, to schools and to other local institutions is rarely addressed… Low achievement then, by default, has to be attributed to teachers and administrators.” (Education Under Siege, p. 222)

Just before Ohio released the new school district report cards last week, the Plain Dealer reporter, Patrick O’Donnell (like almost everybody else across the state who just accepts the ratings on their face) neglected to wonder about the legitimacy of Ohio’s system for evaluating and ranking school districts and seemed to understand his task as explaining how the rating system works for the purpose of measuring the quality of the county’s 31 school districts: “If enough students score well enough to be proficient in fourth-grade math, for example, a school or district has met that indicator and receives credit for it.  The report card will show the number of indicators met and will grade each school and district on how well it has met indicators.” A follow-up article in Saturday’s Plain Dealer  when school district ratings were published does mention some concern among the  state school boards’ and superintendents’ organizations in Columbus about the correlation of district rankings with poverty, but even the emphasis of these policy advocates seems to be on more state funding for districts serving children in poverty (a good idea) without any pointed critique of the premise of test-based accountability.

Because I suspect that—in the words of Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 song,”There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear”—I checked the Ohio Department of Education’s Office on Child Nutrition’s data to track the percentage of children who qualify for federally funded free lunch. The number or percentage of children in a school district who qualify for the federal free and reduced price lunch program is widely accepted as a proxy for student poverty.  To qualify for free lunch, a child must live in a family at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line; hence a family of four whose children qualify for free lunch has an income under $31,005 per year.  Then I compared the percentage of students who qualify for free lunch to the school district’s “Performance Index,” on Ohio’s state school district report card. (“Performance Index” is the factor which the Plain Dealer describes as being the overall reflection of standardized test scores.)

Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, has 31 school districts.  I looked at poverty data for the eight Cuyahoga County school districts with the lowest Performance Index ratings and the eight districts with the highest Performance Index ratings. My informal analysis is consistent with what academic research has demonstrated again and again: test scores, on average, correlate with family income.  School districts with the highest “Performance Index” scores are wealthy—often outer-ring—suburbs, while the Cleveland City Schools and several suburbs in the inner ring score low in the “Performance Index” ratings.  The difference in the amount of family poverty between the high and low scoring districts is startling.

Here is the free lunch data for the eight bottom scoring school districts. Warrensville Heights with the lowest “Performance Index score” has 73.45 percent of children qualifying for free lunch; East Cleveland–92.19 percent; Cleveland–74.83 percent; Maple Heights–73.45 percent; Euclid–66.7 percent; Garfield Heights–61.60 percent; Richmond Heights–66.40 percent; and Cleveland Heights-University Heights–59.43 percent.

Then I looked at the eight top scoring school districts.  Solon, the district with the highest performance rating, has 8.89 percent of children who qualify for free lunch; Rocky River–13.01 percent; Beachwood–8.75 percent; Chagrin Falls–3.16 percent; Independence–7.33 percent; Bay Village 6.16 percent; Brecksville-Broadview Heights 10.19 percent; and Orange–11.34 percent.

Randy Hoover, professor emeritus at Youngstown State University clearly understands what’s happening here.  Hoover recently described both the irony and tragedy of how standardized testing and the rating of school districts is playing out among his former students who have become public school teachers: “For my students working in high-poverty schools, the isolation and alienation was palpable, with very good, dedicated teachers feeling demoralized and abandoned amid the very public, state-mandated accountability reports showing them to be professionally incompetent.  Equally disturbing were those in the wealthier schools who were starting to become a bit smug because these same accountability reports portrayed them to be professionally excellent.  Neither group understood that teachers in low-performing schools were no more the cause of low performance than those in high-performing schools were of performance success.”

Gov. Christie — ” I don’t care about the community criticism…”; School Opens in Newark

School opened in Newark, New Jersey on Thursday, September 4, in the messy, patched together way that major transformations occur.  The question in this case, as Cami Anderson, the state’s appointed overseer superintendent imposed her controversial “One Newark” school choice plan on the school district, is why the confusion had to happen.  The citizens of Newark overwhelmingly elected a new mayor in the spring, Ras Baraka, a public school educator who ran on a platform of improving the public schools in Newark’s neighborhoods.  But Cami Anderson and Governor Chris Christie—who arrogantly said, “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”—have persisted in their plans to close public schools and expand school choice.

As school began under “One Newark,” about 190 students were reported by WNYC News not to have been assigned a school yet and only 74 percent of students were reported to have found a place in one of their top five schools.  According to Bob Braun, the blogger and retired reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger, students with disabilities were not provided transportation at all on the first day.  There was considerable confusion as families tried to navigate a new shuttle bus service set up by the school district to support students who were assigned to schools far from home.  Newark’s public schools have not provided transportation in the past.

Braun has been persistent and prophetic in pointing out the racial implications of the Christie/Anderson experiment on Newark’s children.  I urge you to read all of his recent blog posts on the Newark schools, because he is forthright in naming how power politics and racial politics work in the biggest—and majority-African American—city of a wealthy state.

Here is Braun’s reflection on the meaning of a preliminary boycott organized by the Newark Student Union on the day before school started:  “Newark’s political and organizational leaders will, I know, scoff at this but right now, the leaders of the struggle against ‘One Newark’ and the privatization of public education are the hundreds of high school students who early this morning marched from three high schools to Military Park and who, tomorrow, are expected to take even bolder action against the policies of Cami Anderson, her puppet master Chris Christie, and Christie’s privatization guru, Cory Booker.  That doesn’t mean a few hundred high school students from Science Park, Arts, and Central will bring down Anderson, but what it does mean is this: For now, they are keeping the fight alive, they are serving as the conscience of the Newark community, and they are reminding everyone that real people—mothers and fathers and children—are hurt every day by the disruption caused by this mindless reorganization plan.”

On Thursday, September 4, the students’ school boycott and public demonstration blocked Broad Street in Newark for eight hours as schools opened under “One Newark.”  According to Braun, the high school students requested a meeting with Cami Anderson but were denied.  Braun reports that the mayor, Ras Baraka, posted his chief education policy adviser Lauren Wells all day at the protest.  She told the students, “they had ‘energized’ the fight against Anderson and for local control.  ‘We wanted to make sure you were safe,’ she said.”  Braun adds: “Although the children led the way yesterday with their act of civil disobedience, this is not child’s play. They were protecting the jobs and rights and income of adults… Those who believe the students’ fight is not every unionized teacher’s fight are simply burying their heads in the sand.”

Texas School Funding Once Again Ruled Unconstitutional

For a at least a dozen years now we’ve been operating across the country as though we can simply command that public schools do better and expect them to accommodate our expectations. Nothing required of us at all as citizens. Teachers just need to work harder.

Of course this is all a matter of pretend.  It seems to be becoming clearer that we can’t demand ever-rising test scores as mandated by the federal testing law No Child Left Behind,  cut federal fundingcut state funding in 35 states lower than it was in 2008 before the recession, send a lot of money outside the public system to poorly regulated charters, and expect it all to work out.

A trial judge in Texas recently ruled that it isn’t working out at all in that state.  According to the Dallas Morning News, State District Judge John Dietz , “decided in favor of more than 600 school districts who had argued that the legislature has underfunded education while imposing new mandates.”  “The court finds that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system is structured, operated and funded so that it cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren,” wrote Judge Dietz.  The state will appeal the case.

The judge originally found the system unconstitutional in February of 2013, though he decided to give the legislature time to allocate more money for education before reaching a final decision.  School districts had sued the state after a massive cut of $5.4 billion from the state education fund in 2011, after the 2008 recession and after the money from the 2009 federal stimulus ran out.  According to the Texas Tribune, the $3.4 billion restored to the education fund since the judge‘s initial 2013 ruling still leaves many Texas school districts with less state funding than they had prior to the 2011 cuts.

Michael Williams, the Texas Education Commissioner, is reported by the Texas Tribune to have echoed the argument made recently in Kansas and Ohio that the legislature ought to be solely responsible for school funding without the oversight of the courts. Williams said, “Any revisions to our school finance system must be made by members of the Texas Legislature.”  In Ohio the chair of a constitutional modernization commission has proposed removing from the state constitution language that protects the right of all children to schools that are “thorough and efficient.” Defending the importance of checks and balances through court oversight, Charlie Wilson, a professor at the college of law at the Ohio State University declared in testimony to the Ohio Commission, “If there’s not some kind of enforcement mechanism, then it’s very easy for the General Assembly to ignore the Constitution, and then you get to the question of why even bother having a Constitution.”

According to a joint press release from the Education Law Center and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, school finance adequacy and equity cases are currently pending in Kansas, Washington, New York, Connecticut and Colorado.  The press release notes that the plaintiff districts in the recently decided Texas case serve 75 percent of that state’s children and that “10 percent of all public school students in the nation are enrolled in a Texas school.”

Inequality in access to well funded schools is widespread, so much so that the Rev. John Thomas, former president and general minister of the United Church of Christ and now a professor and administrator at Chicago Theological Seminary calls it affirmative action for the privileged.  In his blog last week, Thomas writes:  “In fact… affirmative action is alive and well, and has been for a long time.  It’s just that it actually widens the gaps to access in this country, further enhancing historic privileges and deepening the divides between rich and poor, between persons who are white and those of color… Given the reliance of school funding on local property taxes, and the reductions in state funding for public education, this has led to a dramatic increase in disparities in the money spent on poor and wealthy (or modestly wealthy) kids… In some states the ratio is as high as three to one… School funding is only one part of the problem, but its a huge one.”

The Education Law Center and the Leadership Conference quote Judge Dietz’s decision: “Rather than attempt to solve the problem, the State has buried its head in the sand, making no effort to determine the cost of providing all students with a meaningful opportunity to acquire the essential knowledge and skills reflected in the state curriculum and to graduate at a college-and career-ready level.”