Star-Studded ED Commission Takes on the Behemoth of Inequity

February 28, 2011 | By Thompson Education | Post a Comment

(This post was written by guest blogger Andrew Brownstein, one of Thompson’s federal education policy editors.) The chief federal mechanism to deal with inequity across public schools is called comparability. This requirement that school districts give Title I schools state and local resources comparable to those received by non-Title I counterparts has been repeatedly gutted and minimally enforced since its creation in the late 1960s. In addition to disparities within districts, there are significant gaps between districts.

One of the reasons for the current momentum on the issue is that the Obama administration has made fixing comparability a priority. States receiving money from the 2009 stimulus, for example, had to agree to make “improvements…in the equitable distribution of teachers for all students, particularly for students who are most in need.” The stimulus contained a novel provision requiring school districts to report school-level financial data, which is expected to provide a foundation for future congressional action.

Another source of optimism is the membership of the commission itself, which featured a number of heavy hitters in the world of education policy and business. It includes co-chairman Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix; Mike Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools; Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University; Eric Hanushek, also of Stanford; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

But the problem didn’t evade solutions for three decades for nothing. The biggest issue, as described by the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights, Russlyn Ali, is that education funding decisions are “inherently local.” Whatever solution the commission arrives at will face the current political reality: a Congress that has shifted increasingly towards federalism and wants to increase, not diminish, local control over the nation’s schools. Another problem is the recession. Will states and school districts, not to mention the federal government, have the funding to implement the commission’s proposals?

“There’s a feeling of unease between the budget and the agenda” of the commission, said co-chairman Hastings. And yet, added his counterpart Edley, that reality may change and “the sun will shine again.”

What do you think about the commission’s purpose and goals? Given the current economic and political climate, does the star power on this commission have any chance of providing actionable recommendations — that will actually be acted upon?

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