Thank you to everyone who was able to join us for the GRA May 14 Educational Discussion. The event was hosted by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, involved speakers from across the GRA, and featured a visual recording by Caryn Sterling of Drawing Insight. The 1-hour panel discussion was composed of two parts, Education Funding Fundamentals and Education Funding Future.

Education Funding Fundamentals

Mike DiBiase’s discussion summarized recent changes to Rhode Island’s education funding system, which serves approximately 140,000 K-12 students in 36 school districts. In 2010, Rhode Island adopted a new school funding formula that incorporated per student expenditures in regional states and included consideration of local fiscal capacity, local income levels and poverty rates. It was a remarkable move, according to DiBiase, since it was passed during the Great Recession and helped to shift state money from rich to poor communities as it was phased in over 10 years. Comparing funding levels in 2012 and 2018, Mike found that state funding for schools increased by six percentage points during that period but Rhode Island’s test scores remain average at best compared to other states. 

Shawn Teigen spoke about Utah’s position nationwide in K-12 education funding and spending and focused particularly on students at risk of poor academic outcomes. According to Teigen, Utah was the last state in the country in terms of per-pupil spending, with funding effort eroded by constitutional amendments and legislation. He noted that while the state’s outcomes aren’t that bad, the state particularly fell short in funding for lower income students and at risk of poor outcomes. However, he said his hopes are high for new legislation in 2021, which would focus on increasing funding significantly by up to 5-15% for at risk learners on a per pupil basis.

Phyllis Resnick spoke about Colorado’s most well-known property tax reform, the Gallagher Amendment. This mechanism in Colorado’s Constitution requires residential property represent no more than 45% of taxable valuation statewide, which is implemented by a sliding residential assessment rate. As residential property values in urban areas in Colorado soared over the subsequent years, the residential assessment rate dropped precipitously. The Amendment impacted education funding immensely because under Colorado’s school funding formula, per-pupil funding not covered by property tax then becomes the state’s responsibility. Since the implementation of the Gallagher Amendment, the state’s share of education funding has increased and put pressure on the budget. In response to the state and local budget pressure caused by the Amendment, in 2020 Colorado voters essentially decided to raise their own property taxes by repealing it. Resnick noted that the repeal should begin to shift the burden for funding schools back onto the local property tax, but advised attendees to stay tuned as the repeal is implemented and Coloradans begin to see higher property tax bills.

Education Funding Future 

Cree Matlock spoke about how states can maximize the impact of the billions in enhanced federal education funding provided during the pandemic and emphasized the need to think innovatively about how schools can look differently for the future. The funding came in three parts: ESSER I focused on ensuring students and educators had the connectivity and technology to continue schooling; ESSER II focused on measuring and addressing learning loss among students disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and school closures; and ESSER III is focused on the safe reopening of schools and operations aligned to CDC prevention guidance. Although the enormous amount funding is a great aid to schools, Matlock reminded everyone that the funding was a one-time source and therefore should be invested to have the highest return. She recommended that the areas with highest impact would be to invest in technology, new infrastructure, upgrades to classrooms, family and staff engagement, and academic support and interventions.

Dan Gerlach gave an overview of how schools in North Carolina and around the country are funded in a normal year and how extraordinary the pandemic funding from the federal government to states and local governments is. He noted particular areas where governments will need public policy help, especially from GRA organizations. First, the enhanced federal funds will eventually run out and governments will need to prepare for this, potentially providing state funding to replace federal funding. Additionally, local governments do not have recent experience of direct federal general revenue aid, which could be a complication. Therefore, he recommends that governments take their time to develop a comprehensive plan for the use of funds, ensuring that they are sustainable over time and that meaningful and responsible investments can be made in major priorities.

Audience members were given the chance to ask speakers questions after each of the two parts of the panel along with having free conversation time at the end.

If you missed the event or just want to watch it again (it was that good!), you can find a link to the event recording here, where you’ll get a chance to listen to the discussion while also watching Caryn creating the graphic you see at the top of this page. We would like to again thank EdNC for generously providing funding for this event and all of our speakers and participants.