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America is finally getting serious about education reform.

The Center for American Progress is pleased to announce its support for a new bipartisan education reform initiative by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute entitled, “Fund the Child: Tackling Inequity and Antiquity in School Finance.” The new report, released today, boasts 75 signatories from both sides of the political aisle, including John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, and Cynthia G. Brown, the Center’s Director of Education Policy.

The new report follows the Center’s announcement last week that it has teamed up with another bipartisan group led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to investigate the troubling state of public education finance in our country. The Chamber’s team, which includes CAP and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, will grade state education performance in a number of key areas: student achievement; the rigor of state education standards; high school students’ readiness to transition to postsecondary education and the workforce; and state flexibility and innovation in attracting individuals to the teaching profession.

The results of that study will be released in the beginning of 2007. The “Fund the Child” report released today argues that the United States must undo the widespread archaic, unjust, and inefficient system of education funding in favor of a more equitable one based solely on the educational needs of the child.

Both initiatives highlight an understanding among progressive and conservative education experts that today’s public education system is in need of fundamental reform that must go far beyond the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Both efforts, in different ways, cut to the heart of the problem: equitable financing for every American child.

“Fund the Child” states that to meet the challenge of educating all students to high standards, some students require more instruction and resources than others in order to meet the same ambitious standards. It argues that the United States must introduce a more equitable education finance system in which a real dollar amount, determined solely on the educational needs of the child, “follows” the child as he or she moves between schools or even districts. Such a system is called a weighted student formula funding system and contrasts with funding systems that distribute money based on the number of teachers, programs, types of facilities, or even political jockeying.

Specifically, the report makes the case for a public education finance system where:

  • Funding should follow the child, on a per-student basis, to the public school that he/she attends
  • Per-student funding should vary according to the child’s need and other relevant circumstances.
  • It should arrive at the school as real dollars (i.e., not teaching positions, ratios, or staffing norms) that can be spent flexibly, with accountability systems focused more on results and less on inputs, programs, or activities.
  • These principles for allocating money to schools should apply to all levels (e.g., federal funds going to states, state funds going to districts, districts to schools).
  • Funding systems should be simplified and made transparent.

For too long the United States has frequently operated schools where those who have the most receive the most in terms of opportunities to succeed in school. Last August, the Renewing Our Schools, Securing Our Future National Task Force, convened by the Center for American Progress, stated in “Getting Smarter, Becoming Fairer: A Progressive Education Agenda for a Stronger Nation”:

The high-quality schools that are such an integral ingredient in the American dream have too often been missing in the lives of low-income, minority, and immigrant children. These children are more likely to have inexperienced, inadequately prepared teachers than their white and middle- and upper-income peers. They often confront dilapidated school facilities, dated and insufficient materials, and fewer resources than those who live in affluent areas. Not surprisingly, the end result is significant disparities in academic achievement that surface relatively early in students’ educational careers and persist throughout them.

“Getting Smarter, Becoming Fairer” called for equitable public school funding and discussed the problems addressed in the “Fund the Child” report. “Fund the Child” provides a roadmap for solving them.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is approaching the search for a solution in a different way. The Chamber has assembled a bipartisan team of experts to aggregate and analyze current data and supplement it with new research that examines return on investment, budget transparency, and the relationship between per pupil spending and student achievement. The Chamber will use the results of the analysis to formulate and aggressively advance public policies to improve state education systems across the country.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute study released today was signed by former Education Secretaries Rod Paige, William Bennett, and Shirley Hufstedler, and former Governors John Engler of Michigan and Jim Hunt of North Carolina, among others. Says John Podesta: “The fundamental recommendation in this report — to provide funding support in amounts that are based on individual children’s needs — has the potential, if adopted by governmental entities at all levels, to take a historic step in closing the pervasive achievement gaps in this country’s student achievement levels and finally provides an equal educational opportunity for all children.”

Read the entire report and to see a full list of signatories:

Click here to read “Getting Smarter, Becoming Fairer: A Progressive Education Agenda for a Stronger Nation.”

Click here to read the Center’s position on the so called “65% solution to America’s education crisis, “State Focus: The 65 Percent dissolution”

Media interested in interviewing Cindy Brown on the Center’s role in the Fund the Child paper should contact Daniella Gibbs Léger at (202) 741-6258 or dleger@americanprogress.org.

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