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AISD tackles inequity in school funding

The Austin school district announced Monday that it will partner with a nonprofit company to allocate funding and resources to its schools more equitably, based on the individual needs of students instead of formulas tied to staffing levels set by the administration.

The company, Education Resource Strategies, has worked with Los Angeles, Denver and several other large urban districts across the country to equalize its funding systems. In Austin, the new system would be phased in for the 2014-15 school year.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Nicole Conley-Abram, the district’s chief financial officer. “Money should be tied to kids.”

Under the $2 million proposal, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation will donate $1.6 million toward the project and the Noyce Foundation, which funds efforts to improve science and math as well as education and policy, will give $400,000.

District officials said the change to a student-based funding model has been in the works for at least one year, and is not related to a lawsuit threatened in September by the Texas Civil Rights Project. The civil rights group charged in a 106-page report that the district has allowed parents and other private parties to subsidize programs at schools in higher-income neighborhoods, but neglected to ensure that sufficient public funds got to low income students and their schools.

According to the plan, Education Resource Strategies will first determine how much money is being allocated per student at each campus, what the schools are doing with that money, how that matches up with the best practices used in districts across the country and what the barriers are in organizing those resources equitably.

A committee will then seek the advice of community members in order to assign money values to each student. Every student will get a base value amount; students with special needs, including English language learners and gifted students, would be assigned additional amounts.

“How a system reallocates its resources to schools is incredibly important and is an important lever of overall success,” said Jonathan Travers, director of Education Resource Strategies. “What’s right for the funding system that’s right for one school district isn’t necessarily going to be right for another. So it’s really important that the system engage in this community conversation.”

The system would not only give campuses more power in deciding how they use that money, but would be more transparent, district officials say. It also eliminates surprises in how the money is distributed and the jockeying for more money from the administration.

“There’s no more kissing the ring at Central (office) because everybody knows what everybody gets,” said Conley-Abram.

Joe Berra, a lead attorney with the Texas Civil Rights project, said that while the district’s plan for redistributing public funds “is a good first step,” it doesn’t address the issue of private funding — and doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a lawsuit.

“The overall urgent need to prioritize the schools with the highest needs children, primarily on the eastside,” said Berra. “That should be the overriding priority in the district.”


Read the online version of the story here.

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