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Equity in education

Published: 
Sunday, July 8, 2018

Beneath every face are the latent faces of ancestors; beneath every character, their characters. All that we inherit—memes or units of cultural information transmitted from one generation to the next, DNA, as well as poverty or opulence—all play a vital role in expressions of our motivation and character.

We are unequal. So to increase equity, Shanghai uses efficient public financing and a balance between autonomy and accountability to manage its education system. A comprehensive evaluation of Shanghai’s schools was conducted using SABER—the World Bank’s global platform for benchmarking education systems. The evaluation was complemented with a detailed schools survey. The final report noted that Shanghai’s education system stands out as one of the strongest in the world because it translates smart education policies into excellent learning results.

SABER reported little difference in student performance across socio-economic strata in Shanghai. While a student from a poor family or community in the United States is more likely to fall behind academically than his or her peers, the same isn’t true of poor students in Shanghai.

In fact, the poorest ten per cent of students in Shanghai perform at a level in math that is on average 28 months ahead of the poorest ten per cent of students in the United States.

What’s more, the achievement gap between the lowest-and highest-performing students in Shanghai is smaller than the achievement gap in the US. To improve equity in Alberta, Canada, homeowners pay their property tax directly to the local government authority. The tax due is typically calculated by multiplying the assessed value of the property by the tax rate—commonly referred to as ‘mill rate’ and expressed as dollars of tax per $1,000 of assessed value.

In Alberta the education property tax supports all public and separate school students. The education property tax helps pay for basic instruction costs including teacher salaries, textbooks, and other classroom resources.

The education property tax is pooled into the Alberta School Foundation Fund (ASFF) and then disbursed to all public and separate school boards on an equal per-student rate. This education property tax provides Alberta’s education system with a stable and sustainable stream of revenue.

The pooling of education property tax in the Alberta School Foundation Fund (ASFF) guarantees that students receive a prodigious education regardless of where they reside.

The Constitution of Canada guarantees Protestant and Roman Catholic minority rights to a separate education system. In communities with separate school jurisdictions, property owners declare their religious affiliation, either Protestant or Roman Catholic, permitting their education property tax dollars to be directed to those separate school jurisdictions.

In California, property taxes provide the funding for about 30 per cent of the state’s K-12 budget. In California, there are two types of school districts for funding purposes. Basic aid school districts can raise their own revenues, usually via property taxes well beyond the state-guaranteed funding levels, while state-aid school districts, which make up about 90 per cent of districts across the State don’t have access to wealthy property owners and property taxes and thus rely on state aid.

Fully embracing school choice by eliminating its reliance on local revenues would help California improve educational outcomes. California’s Local Control Funding Formula, signed into law in 2013 has made progress in increasing both funding equity and transparency in the State’s school districts. But to modernize the school finance system and fully transition from district-centred to student-centred funding, the State hopes to abolish the antiquated link between property taxes and a child’s education.

This appears to be a lofty goal but such a shift currently has traction in Pennsylvania where there’s a bipartisan proposal to eliminate property tax revenue from the education funding formula and replace lost revenues with reformed state-level sales and income taxes. That plan has broad support.

Democrats like that it provides the foundation to create a truly equitable education funding system. Republicans view it as a way toward maximizing parental autonomy since local revenues often get in the way of funding school choice programmes such as charters and education savings accounts.

The concept of backpack funding, where per pupil student funding follows the student to whichever school they choose to attend, is designed, in part, to give low-income students the chance to escape failing schools and delinquent teachers.

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