During last week’s Black and Brown Democratic Presidential Forum in Iowa, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized the nation’s dependency on local property taxes to fund public schools, offering instead that we need “to make sure the federal government plays an active role to make sure that those schools who need it the most get the funds that they deserve.” See from Vox: “Bernie Sanders has a Bold, Simple Idea for Improving Public Education” and “Bernie Sanders is Right: We Should Federalize Public School Funding.”
KEVIN KUMASHIRO, kkumashiro at usfca.edu, @kevinkumashiro
Kumashiro is dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, and author of numerous books, including Bad Teacher!: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture.
He said today: “In contrast to Congress’ recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that moves much decision-making authority from the feds to the states, Sanders offers a refreshing call for the feds to play a much more impactful, and very different role, than in the past.
“The research is clear that inequitable funding is a primary driver of educational disparities, but also that initiatives to increase funding for struggling schools have had significant impact on student learning and on students’ future economic prosperity. But inequitable funding will continue to plague our nation’s schools if we continue to rely on local property taxes as the primary source of funding. Currently, school funding consists primarily of state and local funding, and on average, we see that in poorer communities, individuals are paying a greater percentage of their income in state/local taxes, but seeing a much lower amount of per-pupil spending, when compared with wealthier communities, and ballot initiatives have failed to change these formulas.
“Sanders is correct: The federal government can and should play ‘a more active role,’ in at least two ways. First, we need to recognize that budgets reflect priorities, and therefore, that investing in the education of our children and youth should be a top priority of the federal government. We have the political will to spend enormous amounts of federal tax dollars on war and prisons, but not on schools? Second, we need bolder and smarter national policies on how to spend these funds. We know that current policies are exacerbating inequities, including local funding formulas that benefit the rich, competitive grants that fuel privatization, funding contingencies that are tied to ‘reforms’ that do not work (like high-stakes testing) — all of these are making our schools less effective and less democratic, and the federal government can and should put forth a vision of public schooling that puts us on a better course.”