Increase funding for schools with the highest poverty (complexity funding)

The Importance of Equitable Funding in Education

Goal #2 - Increase funding for the schools with the highest poverty.

 If you remember one thing from this article, I hope it is this fact: A relationship exists between socioeconomic factors (i.e. poverty) and educational performance. 

 Add to that reality, in areas of concentrated poverty, educational performance is even more negatively impacted.  And these instances of concentrated poverty are everywhere; Analysis of 2013 federal data, reported by the Washington Post, indicated that for the first time in at least 50 years, a MAJORITY of public school students come from low-income families.  Think about this sobering fact…we have more students living in poverty than at any time in our nation's history since before 1964. 

 The research is compelling!  A 2016 report by Sean Reardon at Stanford University studied over 11,000 school districts in grade 3-8 math & English/Language Arts from 2009-2013 and presented clear correlations between poverty and academic achievement (  While many strategies can be implemented to reduce this impact, such as improving mental health services and eliminating food insecurity; the fact remains that based upon this reality, it costs more to educate a child in poverty. 

What is at stake, exactly?  Research from The Council of State Governments reported a long list, including:

  • Children      living in poverty have higher rates of absenteeism and are more likely to drop      out of school.
  • Nearly 30%      of children living in poverty do not complete high school, which limits future      economic success and potential employability, leading to poverty as an adult.
  •      Those      without a high school diploma by age 20 are 50% more likely to have      inconsistent employment.

 The list goes on, as does the impact on communities.  The long-term effects are real.  They create a cost to Kokomo.  Unemployment is at recent low levels and many employees are frustrated at the lack of qualified candidates for good paying jobs.  One solution is higher graduation rates.  Other indicators of graduation include an ability to read at grade level by third grade (thus the State-instituted gateway exam for third graders requiring them to read at level before being promoted to fourth grade...though some qualifiers exist).    Children living in poverty are more likely not to have the readiness skills to enter primary school and they are 30% more likely to be delayed in their learning.  These realities often create obstacles in passing a third grade gateway test and increase the likelihood of a student failing to graduate.

 Many solutions exist, but the economic reality is that if we want to close the achievement gap that has been proven to exist in Indiana, we must address poverty in Indiana.  We also must recognize that it costs more to educate a child living in poverty. 

 Based upon the compelling research and information available, what are State of Indiana elected officials doing to address this achievement gap?  What are State leaders doing to create school funding that is equitable?  What are State leaders doing to implement policies and funding mechanisms that will help Indiana overcome this challenge and close the achievement gap?

 Doing nothing might actually be an improvement.  The reality is…during the past few years Indiana has taken a step backwards by implementing policies, grants, and new funding formulas that ignore the long line of research related to this simple fact.  Instead, State leaders have implemented new grants that provide money to teachers where student achievement is high (again, this is correlated with poverty thus providing millions of dollars to districts that least need the help).  Second, and more harmful, Indiana leaders implemented a new funding formula in 2014 that shifted money away from a factor called the "complexity index" and placed additional money in the foundation.  Over two years, this removed approximately $500 million dollars in funding from high poverty schools and shifted it to districts that serve, on average, wealthier, less-diverse students. In essence, State leaders have tried to make things equal rather than focusing on making things equitable.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived in the 4th century BC and taught Alexander the Great, once said, “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”

While leaders might not be able to restore the full $500 million that has been cut during the last two years, a fair recognition of the need for funding school districts based on poverty can come by adding $65 million to the complexity funding in the 2018 budget and an additional $65 million in the 2019 budget.  It isn't perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.

 Indiana leaders must stop blaming schools and teachers for the poverty of our children.  They must recognize that it costs more to educate a child living in poverty.  They must consider the value of adding early childhood education funding (more on this later).  Most importantly, our legislators must stop changing the school funding formula that creates greater emphasis on treating all districts equally; rather, they must treat districts equitably.   Reducing funding based on poverty is ill-advised by national advisors and researchers.  It hasn't worked elsewhere and it surely won't work in Indiana.  With these changes come greater community costs in the long term from higher drop-out rates, lower literacy levels, and less qualified people for available jobs.  The writing is on the wall...we just need our legislators to choose to read it!

 Questions to ask your locally-elected leaders:

  • Do you believe      that it costs more to educate children living in poverty?
  • If so, do      you support adequately funding public education expenses related to poverty by      increasing the complexity funding by $65 million in each of the next two years      as part of the 2017 State budget?
  • Will you      promise to NOT support funding increases to private education and non-education-related      causes until this goal is accomplished?

Janet Napolitano once said, "Public schools were designed as the great equalizers of our society - the place where all children could have access to educational opportunities to make something of themselves in adulthood." 

We must continue to support our public schools and to fund them equitably in well-researched and effective ways so that they can continue to serve as a great equalizer for our society.

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