April 12, 2018

Are Our Students Getting the Dollars Provided to Them?

On Apr. 12, E4E-Minnesota Executive Director Madaline Edison testified before the MN State House Finance Committee on Equitable School Funding, sharing, “for school leaders, educators, parents and the community to share input in a meaningful way, we must have a clear and transparent picture of where funding is going and to what end.“



This testimony has been condensed and edited.

Madam Chair, my name is Madaline Edison. I’m the Executive Director of Educators for Excellence - Minnesota.

We worked with Representative Loon and other members on this issue because of our membership, approximately 2,000 members from primarily the metro area, select our policy focus each year and create recommendations, including the report in front of you. This year, one of the two issues they selected was equitable school funding and resources, in part because of the budget issues, so we can ensure our students who need more, are receiving more resources. A team of educators met over the course of three months this fall to explore equitable school funding, survey colleagues, and publish a paper with recommendations on this topic. We have copies of our report available here.

Our members and our policy team members shared experiences of teaching in schools where students who have greater needs, yet seem to be getting less than their more affluent peers. The policy team dug into the questions of, “Where is money currently being spent? Is it being spent equitably? With what results?”

What became evident in the researching process, is that while Minnesota collects and reports on many different financial data points, there are currently not clear answers to these critical questions and we need more financial transparency. But a few things are clear:

  • Minnesota has a laudable progressive funding formula in which the state provides more per pupil funding to districts that serve higher populations of special education students, English learners, and students who are living in poverty.

  • While the state formula includes several equitable spending provisions, because the funds are allocated to districts and not directly to schools or students, it is unclear how much funding actually reaches the students for whom the dollars are intended.

  • Intra-district inequities or the differences in resources students can access at different schools within a district are often masked and even exacerbated by practices such as:

    • School budgets are based on number of staff a rather than student-based allocations, and

    • Staff-based school budgets are based on an average teacher salary instead of actual teacher salaries

As the state’s largest districts are running large deficits and making budget cuts, more accessible financial data is needed for the community to weigh in on difficult decisions.

Additionally, as Minnesota implements the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the state must report on a number of financial data points. Fortunately, Minnesota already collects much of the data required by federal law, but our reporting system is opaque to the average person. Different reports must be accessed on different pages for the same school, and it doesn’t allow for easy comparisons between similar schools.

Because MDE collects so much financial data, we have a unique opportunity to review how funding is currently being accessed by students who generate it, and more importantly, to what end, and THEN to determine the best way to report data in an accessible format that allows the public to understand how resources are used and what results are achieved.

Once we have the information about whether our students who have the greatest needs are getting the funding we are allocating for them, we can make determinations about things like providing additional resources in targeted ways. We can examine which schools are effectively serving these student populations based on their resources and how they are accomplishing it.

School spending is the underlying foundation for every education decision and program, and it is also indicative of priorities. For school leaders, educators, parents and the community to share input in a meaningful way, we must have a clear and transparent picture of where funding is going and to what end.

Study after study shows that adequate funding is necessary (but not sufficient) to increasing student achievement. We need the current progressive state funding formula and categories that direct more resources to students with higher needs, AND we need to have a clear picture, to what extent those funds are actually serving the students they aim to help.