A New Age of School Funding?


As I looked over the newspaper headlines for inspiration for my column this month, I read a story highlighting the Obama administration’s attempt to push through a last-second regulation to restructure school funding for the benefit of low-income students.  

This new regulation would have increased federal control over spending at many of the nation’s school districts by requiring hundreds of them to cut the budgets for well-financed elementary and secondary schools and redirect nearly $1 billion to schools with large numbers of low-income students. The regulation would have applied only to school districts with both low-income schools that receive Title I federal funds and higher-income schools that are not eligible for the money. 

All this literally hours before President-elect Donald Trump takes the Oath of Office to become President of the United States. It also occurred amid the controversy over Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, who has the stance of deregulating education in favor of creating school of choice and more charter schools, as she’s done in her home state of Michigan.  

Ultimately, Obama’s U.S. Department of Education withdrew the proposal it wrote, following review by the White House Budget Office and the fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and school administrators, alike. It was first proposed in September, but a rush was put on it after the election.

“The law is clear that it is unacceptable to systematically underfund low-income schools and fill the hole with federal resources,” said Dorie Turner Nolt, a spokeswoman for the education department, speaking to NPR. “While we worked tirelessly to put forward a regulation that implements that simple requirement and to incorporate the extensive feedback we received, we ultimately did not have time to publish a strong final regulation that lives up to the promise of the law.” 

The National School Boards Association called the regulation “unnecessary” and “unwarranted federal overreach” that would constrain school districts. It worried Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We don’t want to hurt one school to help another school. We have to help all schools,” she said.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded roughly $290 million to hundreds of Head Start and Early Head Start programs around the country to expand the hours of service for enrolled children and to increase essential transportation services. The federal government allocated these funds as a down payment to ensure that nearly all preschool-age children in Head Start attend programs that operate for a full day and a full school year. These new resources will allow programs to choose models that work best for the communities they operate in. Head Start administrators can now work with local stakeholders to decide whether to add days at the end of the year, to shorten the summer gap, to add more hours per day or a combination of all these options.  

A 2011 study from the DOE found many low-income schools were receiving less in per pupil funding than their higher income counterparts in the same district, finding that 3.3 million of the nation’s 50 million public-school students attend low-income schools that receive less money per pupil than higher-income schools in the same district. Thus, the study said, nearly 6,000 low-income schools “are shortchanged by about $440,000 a year.” 

With the new Trump administration transitioning into office, we don’t know where exactly school funding will be heading, but it’s clear that change is likely to come. 

How do you feel about the possibility of new regulation or deregulation of education? Do you think it will affect your transportation department in a positive or negative way? Email me to share your thoughts on this new age of school transportation.


Reprinted from the February 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.