TC's Rebell: Connecticut Not the First to Create School Inequity By Relying on Property-Tax Funding
Michael Rebell is quoted in The Atlantic magazine saying that Connecticut, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, is far from alone in having been sued for discrepancies in its school funding system. Since the 1970s, school-funding lawsuits have been filed in 45 out of 50 states, notes Rebell, Professor of Law and Educational Practice and executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College.
The discrepancies result from the way public schools in the United States are funded primarily by local property taxes, creating systems in which wealthy municipalities with more property tax income are better resourced and offer a better education than those in less-wealthy cities and towns, according to the article. In Connecticut, a coalition of parents, students, teachers, unions and other residents sued, arguing that its school funding system is unconstitutional “because it is inadequately funded and because it is inequitably distributed.”
The Atlantic story was published before a State Superior Court in Hartford ruled for the Connecticut plaintiffs, saying the state was “defaulting on its constitutional duty” to adequately educate all children. The ruling by Judge Thomas Moukawsher directed the state to overhaul its school funding systems, graduation requirements, and the ways in which teachers are evaluated and paid. It was unclear last week whether the state would appeal the sweeping decision.
In the Atlantic article, by Alana Semuels, Rebell is quoted as saying that the idea of funding public education through local property taxes was “progressive” when it was originally established in colonial America, at a time when income was fairly evenly distributed. But as the growth of cities and the Industrial Revolution stratified income levels and property values, reliance on local property taxes to fund public education resulted in an inequitable system, Rebell says. “[W]hat might have been progressive in one era can become inequitable in another.”
Although property-tax funding has been challenged in nearly every state, a national solution hasn’t been found. Each state has been left, as Connecticut has been, to address the inequities on its own.
The Connecticut Superior Court ruling, if it stands, could produce a good result, Semuels writes. “[S]tudies show that after courts order public schools to spend more on low-income students, students begin to do better and better in school.” To read the Atlantic article, click here.
Published Monday, Sep 12, 2016