Finding the Keys to School Funding in your Pocket

Have you ever lost your keys? I did recently. I searched everywhere. I looked in the cushions of the sofa (always the most likely spot). I looked in yesterdays jeans (second most likely spot). I thought perhaps they might even be in my dirty laundry— so shirts— and other things— began flying through the air as I went through the hamper (I have history of finding them here too). I thought maybe they might have been lost in the bed covers so I tossed them aside (guilty). I thought maybe I might have left them in the car in the ignition (have done this many times before). Suffice to say that I tore the house apart. Misplacing your keys also happens at the most inconvenient times, the morning when you really urgently need to be somewhere to get something done or have an appointment. After an hour of looking high and low for my keys, and silly and stupid as this sounds, I found my keys in the pocket of the suit jacket I was wearing. Which was insane! All this time I had been looking everywhere, and the keys were in a very obvious place. It occurred to me this morning that this experience is an allegory for school funding.


I travelled to San Antonio Texas last week to serve as a panelist for the Intercultural Development Research Association’s Jose A. Cardenas School Finance symposium held at Our Lady of the Lake University. The specific topic of the symposium was the weighted funding approach utilized in many state school finance systems and to “examine the amount of supplemental funding that is required to effectively implement appropriate services for English Language Learners at the secondary level.”

I understand if ELLs are not typically on your radar, but stay with me because there is a broader, more general argument to be made here about school funding. First, there is this:Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 10.30.59 AM

It’s very clear from the data that states are unequally provisioning education. It’s on purpose because policymakers are determined that some children will be provisioned with a high quality education and then at the same time ration that opportunity for the poor. They say that money doesn’t matter for a high quality education, but what they actually mean is that money only matters for the education of the wealthy and not for the poor. In other words, throwing money at education for wealthy kids is okay, but not poor kids. Have you ever wondered what the funding situation looks like for high performing versus low performing schools? Since money “doesn’t matter” there should be no difference in the schools that do well with ELLs and those that don’t.

IDRA has named Dr. Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos to be the 2014 José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellow for this inaugural year of the program, which they have established to honor the memory of IDRA founder, Dr. José Angel Cárdenas. The goal of the program is engage the nation’s most promising researchers in investigating school finance solutions that secure equity and excellence for all public school students. In his capacity as an IDRA fellow, Dr. Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos wrote:

Determining what resources are needed to fund K-12 education equitably and how much these resources cost have become the principal focus of state level education finance litigation following Rodríguez v. San Antonio 1973. The Rodríguez ruling was reiterated in Horne v. Flores when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the states are accountable and responsible for funding K-12 education. There is currently an ongoing school finance case, Texas Taxpayers and Student Fairness Coalition et al. vs. Williams, that questions the adequacy of the funding system in Texas. On August 28, 2014, the District Court judge reaffirmed his previous ruling that the current Texas funding system is inadequate and gave special attention to the needs of English language learners. As the state of Texas moves forward in response to this ruling, an important question remains: What resources are needed to provide an adequate education for ELLs especially in the secondary level?

To answer this question Dr. Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos investigated the differences between high performing and low performing schools. His first finding was:

Over 60 percent of the approximately 1,700 secondary schools (majority high schools) had masked ELL 10th grade TAKS data. This suggests that there are a high number of schools with fewer than five ELLs tested.

Which harkens back to peer reviewed research we conducted that showed ELL students are triple segregated. Which means not only are they segregated by income and ethnicity, but also they attend schools in high concentrations of ELLs. See the post Study Shows Triple Segregation Persists in Texas Schools

Second, he found that poverty DOES matter.

The highest ELL achievement quintile schools were smaller, had less student mobility, fewer students living in poverty, and fewer special education students.

Third, there is are student outcome differences between high performing and low performing schools.

Schools in the highest ELL achievement quintile had approximately 70 percent more ELL students meet or exceed 10th grade TAKS (all tests), 25 percent more ELL students participate in advanced courses, 25 percent more ELL students who were college ready (both math and English) and 25 percent more ELL students graduate from high school than schools in the bottom ELL achievement quintile.

And, finally, there is funding disparities between high performing schools and low performing schools that serve ELLs.

The highest ELL achievement quintile schools’ total general funds expenditure per pupil advantage over the lowest ELL achievement quintile schools doubled from approximately $400 per pupil in 2010 to approximately $800 per pupil in 2012. Further, the highest ELL achievement quintile schools’ regular program funding per pupil advantage also doubled during this time from $500 to $1000 per pupil.

As displayed in the orange graphic above, those monies add up to tens of thousands of $$$ on the classroom level. At the school level you are talking hundreds of thousands of $$$. At the district level, those disparities results in differences of millions of $$$ between districts.

I had an opportunity to comment after Dr. Oscar presented his research. IDRA placed the comments on YouTube. It’s about ten minutes. Please check it out.

So you are probably saying to yourself. DUH!! ELLs are segregated. Poverty does matter in schools. There are performance differences between schools. There is a difference in spending between high performing and low performing schools. Just like the keys that I found in the pocket of my suit jacket. It is not lost upon us what is happening in schools. In fact I have personally watched Texas and Florida policymakers joust each other in think tank convenings for the title of who is spending less on public education. They are pretty darn proud of the underfunding. Because they relish the underspending and they prefer to monetize our social problems, they look everywhere else for public policy, instead of addressing the obvious reasons for low performing schools.

Moral of the blog post? Dig into your pockets instead of the dirty laundry and everywhere else.

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  • Lost my keys, this morning! Made me, late for work to Coulterville High School where I work. Many of my students here and in Alt.Ed. are SPED students and have “Executive Function” or “Developmental” issues that with care, attention, careful IEP plans can be corrected over time and with maturation Teens, typically, have some “Executive Function” issues anyway, from time to time. It’s a part of natural adolescent development. So, for me this is about “power” in many ways. I had no problem with my lateness, I have the power. Many typical teens have ways, have power to overcome these unfortunate by natural situations. But, to often SPED kids like my foster son with a speech problem, like ELL students and other Alt. Ed. kids don’t have the facility to easily talk their way out of things and situations snowball for some. As an Alt. Ed. Admin. in public schools, I’ve seen it happen far too many times in the NCLB climate.


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