March 16, 2016
MONTGOMERY, AL – Alabama’s funding of public education gets mostly low marks in the recently released fifth edition of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card . The state’s unfair distribution of funds and failure to fund at a level sufficient to support its public schools earns Alabama poor marks when compared to other states in its region, and beyond.
“If Alabama wants to ensure every child receives a quality education, it must adequately fund its schools,” said Rhonda Brownstein, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This report card confirms findings from an earlier report commissioned by the Alabama State Department of Education that clearly shows the state is failing its students – particularly its most vulnerable students living in impoverished communities.”
The National Report Card (NRC), issued annually by the Education Law Center (ELC) and Rutgers University, evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, “fairness indicators” – funding distribution, funding level, state fiscal “effort,” and public school “coverage.” The NRC provides the most in-depth analysis to date of state public education finance and school funding fairness.
Alabama receives an F in the important funding distribution indicator, which measures the extent to which a state’s funding system is structured to recognize the additional resources required for students in a setting of concentrated student poverty. In Alabama, the pattern is actually regressive with higher poverty districts receiving, on average, only about 90 cents for each dollar their more well-to-do counterparts receive. Such a skewed funding system thwarts efforts to improve achievement and narrow achievement gaps.
Also, the state’s overall funding level is well below average, ranking 38 out of 49, even though the National Report Card (NRC) adjusts for regional wages, economies of scale, and other factors. Alabama’s average state and local revenue per pupil in 2013 was $7,670, over two thousand dollars below the national average of $9,766 per pupil.
On a brighter note, Alabama receives a B on its effort to invest in its schools. Effort is based on the percentage of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) allocated to education. The state’s funding system devotes a good share of its relatively low economic capacity to its public schools. Nonetheless, the state’s effort dropped 14% after the 2008 great recession set in and has not recovered.
Finally, Alabama is below average on “coverage,” which examines the share of school-aged children who attend public schools and compares the median household income of those children with the income levels of families who do not use public schools. While about 13% of Alabama school children attend nonpublic schools, the income disparity between public and nonpublic school households is high, with nonpublic households earning more than one and a half times the earnings of public school households, on average.
“This report provides policymakers, legislators, and concerned citizens with the information they need to assess their state’s commitment to fair school funding and to advocate for improvements in the many states where that is absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, a co-author of the National Report Card.
“The State’s continuing failure to fairly fund public education deprives Alabama students of the teachers, support staff and other resources necessary for a high quality education,” said David G. Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center and a co-author of the National Report Card. “We hope the NRC results will serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers to put school funding reform at the top of the education agenda.”
First issued in 2010, the National Report Card is built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems of school funding are the essential precondition for the delivery of a quality educational opportunity. Without this foundation, efforts to improve the nation’s schools will be less productive and unsustainable. To improve on the condition and performance of schools, states need to implement systems that provide sufficient funding that is fairly distributed to account for the needs of students, which are higher for low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Dr. Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Esq., Executive Director of the Education Law Center (ELC); Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director; and Theresa Luhm, Esq., ELC Managing Director. Please visit www.schoolfundingfairness.org for the complete report.
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
973-624-1815, x 19
Southern Poverty Law Center
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications