“Fairness” in School Spending

As an educator, I so often hear my students lament, “That’s not fair!” As we become adults, the concept of fairness becomes much more nuanced, and we often view situations from an equity perspective instead of fairness. This is generally the case in education, where equity and fairness can seem very different.

ESSA requires states to collect and report the per-pupil expenditure for each school and district in the state, broken down by funding source. Some states have already released this data, and all states must publicly release it by the end of the year. The requirement stems from the desire for school spending to be more transparent and spark meaningful conversations about how schools and districts can best use funds to ensure that students with the highest need receive the resources they need to be successful. It’s also one of those cases when equity, not fairness, is the goal. In other words, spending across schools should not be the same. Instead, it should be equitable.

This is an important fact for leaders to recognize. Not all students have the same needs and equity does not necessarily mean giving the same to every student, but rather ensuring that schools receive the supports and resources needed to be successful. Schools with large populations of students often need more support and resources, such as additional support staff, program costs, learning materials and alternative curriculum- all of which requires additional funding to adopt and implement.

In my district, there have been several recent changes in how funds are allocated by the district to each individual school. No longer will each school be given the same amount of funding but will instead receive funds based on the needs of their student population. For example, two of our elementary schools with the highest populations of low-income families will be given additional funding. This funding will be used to increase teacher compensation in an effort to attract more qualified teachers. This move towards more equitable school funding is long past due and I know that students will benefit.

I am encouraged by the progress my district has made towards more equitable school funding and am hopeful we can set an example for the rest of Michigan. ESSA’s financial transparency requirement will shed more light on funding discrepancies so districts and schools can analyze how funds are being spent and have more meaningful conversations around equity. I am hopeful that financial transparency will lead to positive changes for our schools and students.

Jane Porath is an 8th grade mathematics teacher at Traverse City East Middle School. Throughout her career, she has been active in the mathematics education community in various ways. She has served on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She has been involved in the development and writing of a nationally recognized curriculum and has provided professional development for other teachers across the nation. Most recently, she was selected to serve on the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council. Through these roles and many others, Jane has worked to improve the educational system that impacts all of our children.