The Link Between School Finance & Governance

Kim Knous-Dolan is Donnell-Kay’s Associate Director.

Last week I attended the School Finance Partnership Meeting (Ed News coverage here), and as I listened to the discussion, it was clear there are there are still deep philosophical differences about how best to fund (and at what level) education in Colorado.

It caused me to reflect back on two recent white papers that are part of a series on school governance sponsored by the Fordham Foundation.

I realize the word “governance,” especially coupled with school finance, will make people’s eyes roll into the back of their heads. I agree with Rick Hess when he says governance is not sexy.  And, although topics like technology, quality teachers, and Tim Tebow (in my opinion) are sexy, governance is a hugely important issue that gets little play, but deserves considerable attention. And, in this case, the governance questions relate to the school finance debate happening now in Colorado.

The first paper, “Fractured Governance of Resources and the Need for a Coherent and Fair System of Funding to Support High Quality Public Schools,” by Cynthia Brown examines the history of funding inequality in America, largely related to governance structures in American K-12 education.

“The Machinery that Drives Education-Spending Decisions Inhibits Better Use of Resources,” by Marguerite Roza describes the confusing and chaotic nature of an education system that has multiple political layers from above (federal, state, etc…) and also political layers from within the system (e.g. labor, parent, and community groups) that largely dictate school board funding decisions.

In Brown’s article, Boalt Law School Dean Christopher Edley, Co-Chair of the Federal Commission on Equity and Excellence recently said of school finance policy:

There is no area of public policy that better illustrates the contemporary chaos of our federalism [characterized by] federal, state, and local [governments including] 15,000 local school districts plus 3,000 charter school entities…[we have] property taxes but also state revenues and some federal revenues…[There is] utter confusion in the minds of the public as to which level of government is responsible for particular policy choices, particular failures, particular successes…The school finance reform issues brings into high relief this conflict over roles, responsibilities, and accountability.

Both these articles are worth a read and may provide some insight and fodder into how our funding system is intricately linked with our school governance system. If we want an education system that provides quality outcomes for all children, it may be time for Coloradoans to think deeply about different governance and funding structures. At the very least, such conversations will help us surface more of the deeply held beliefs that either guide us, or sometimes hold us back.

Kim Knous-Dolan, Donnell-Kay Foundation

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Publish Date: 
Monday, December 19, 2011