New Report Reveals Devastatingly Large Education Funding Gaps

Despite recent, widespread attention to inequitable education funding formulas, school districts serving low-income students and students of color still receive far less funding than districts serving White and more affluent students. This is just one of the findings of “Funding Gaps 2015,” a new report by The Education Trust that analyzes education funding equity across the United States and within each state.

In order to understand how states allocate the resources they oversee, “Funding Gaps 2015” explicitly removes federal funds from its analysis and focuses only on state and local funding. The results are discouraging, and highlight how low-income students and students of color are disadvantaged by funding policy.

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The report finds that there is great variation among states in terms of their funding patterns. For example, Minnesota and Ohio both provide 22 percent more in state and local funds to their highest poverty districts, while Illinois provides 19 percent less. Similarly, Massachusetts provides 18 percent more funding to districts serving the most students of color, while Texas provides 15 percent less.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Nationally, the highest poverty school districts receive about $1,200, or 10 percent, less per student in state and local finds than the districts with the lowest poverty levels.
  • Districts serving the most students of color receive about $2,000, or 15 percent, less per student in state and local funds than districts serving the fewest students of color

Sadly, the inequities described in “Funding Gaps 2015” have existed for decades. The quality of teachers, resources, and educational opportunities that a child has is far too often partly determined by their family’s income, or the color of their skin.

“If this nation is truly to live up to its promise of being the ‘land of equal opportunity,’ states must take a hard look at their funding formulas and ask themselves, ‘Are we giving all students the resources they need to reach their full potential?’ The answer is ‘no’ in far too many states,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, K-12 senior data and policy analyst and co-author of the report. “The good news is that closing funding gaps is possible. There are many states that are paving the way.”

To get detailed data on funding patterns in your state, check out The Education Trust’s new online data map.

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Tennesseans Lead the Campaign for Education Equity at the Local Level

By Tara Yarlagadda, Field Associate

A strong campaign for education equity has been steadily building in Jackson, Nashville, and all across the state of Tennessee over the past few months. An ever-growing group of committed Tennesseans has been leading the charge to advocate on behalf of the Common Core State Standards – known in Tennessee as the Tennessee Academic Standards – and defend against any attempts to alter the standards. The Leadership Conference Education Fund has been steadfastly working to support the work of local affiliates in the state, such as the Tennessee State Conference NAACP, headed by President Gloria Sweet-Love, and the Urban League of Middle Tennessee, led by President and CEO Patricia Stokes.

In March of this year, 100 individuals joined the Tennessee State Conference NAACP in the state capital of Nashville to announce the state chapter’s legislative priorities of the year. One of the key priorities was the need to preserve and advocate against any attacks on the Tennessee Academic Standards. The Education Fund was fortunate to be part of the dialogue that took place that day and provided guidance to advocates on messaging for the Tennessee Academic Standards.

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The Tennessee Academic Standards were created through a bipartisan, state-led initiative made up of governors and state superintendents dedicated to supporting standards-based education reform efforts across the states. These are clear, consistent standards that spell out what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade level in English and math, thereby ensuring that all students meet the same expectations. Parents across Tennessee also echo the need for consistent, statewide standards that allow for higher expectations for students.

One of the key goals of these joint efforts between The Education Fund, the Tennessee State Conference NAACP, and others is to advocate for equity in the implementation of the Tennessee Academic Standards, in particular by creating a space to elevate the voices of low-income and communities of color. This includes training advocates to effectively communicate with media and key stakeholders across the state and providing research on the lay of the land in Tennessee. State leaders such as President Sweet-Love have been instrumental in bringing together far-flung advocates from across Tennessee to work together to ensure that each and every child receives an education that matches the rigors of our globalized world.

In a global economy, students from Tennessee must be adequately prepared so that they can compete with children from Hong Kong, Massachusetts, and all around the world. Parents and community leaders in Tennessee recognize that high, consistent, and achievable standards are needed in order to accomplish that goal.

However, the work does not end merely by developing and implementing the standards. A bridge must be built to the standards connecting what students currently know with what they should know in order to meet the higher standards, in part by ensuring that all students have the resources – great teaching, high-quality afterschool programs, tutoring, technology, etc. – so they can be ready for college, career, and the world.  Little by little, Tennesseans are working to do just that.

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DOT Approves Nationwide Pilots for Local and Targeted Hiring Policies

By Anita Hairston, PolicyLink

Last week, the US Department of Transportation initiated a first-of-its-kind experimental program that will allow city and state departments of transportation to set economic and geographic preferences when hiring for local contracts to build roads, bridges, and transit facilities.

This is a groundbreaking move for transportation equity. For too long, the U.S. Department of Transportation held onto a prohibition on local hiring that failed to serve communities most in need of good transportation jobs. Research has shown that low-income workers and communities of color are vastly under-represented in jobs in the transportation sector. This is a missed opportunity for connecting these communities to quality jobs, especially given the good wages and benefits that often accompany transportation work.

This new local hire program, which will promote employment of local, low-income workers on transportation projects, will be established for a one-year trial period. It sets forth a glide path to full workforce inclusion. Federal transportation officials have also signaled a desire to make this trial program permanent — a move that would have a huge impact on building sustainable change within our nation’s transportation system.

PolicyLink has been working for many years to win targeted hiring provisions in infrastructure. Local hire has a congressional advocate in Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) who championed local hire legislation. Because of its potential for positive community impact, local and targeted hiring provisions are a key part of the policy goals that the Transportation Equity Caucus has outlined for the federal surface transportation legislation, which is currently being debated in Congress.

Now is the time for equity advocates to encourage their regional transportation decision-makers to take advantage of the new local hire program. This is an urgent moment to let USDOT know that local and targeted hire is a priority for our communities. Join PolicyLink, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the Equity Caucus, and other organizations to send comment letters to USDOT about this program before April 6, 2015. For more information, please email Anita Hairston at anita@policylink.org.

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D.C. City Council Pushes Forward Local CEDAW Initiative

By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

While we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, we are reminded that the United States is one of only seven countries that still hasn’t ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This international treaty affirms fundamental principles of human rights and equality for women around the world, yet – nearly 35 years after it was signed by President Carter – the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify it.

Absent action in the Senate, elected officials in cities like Washington, D.C., have taken it upon themselves to introduce local CEDAW ordinances. D.C. Councilmember David Grosso co-introduced a CEDAW ordinance on March 3 with unanimous council support. Councilmember Grosso highlighted the need to protect women and girls from physical harm, unfair treatment, and structural violence.

As an amendment to the 1999 Office of Human Rights Establishment Act, the District’s CEDAW initiative requires gender analyses within all District government agencies, as well as an annual report by the Office of Human Rights (OHR) with recommendations to advance gender equity. The bill also requires the OHR to make training in human rights with a gender perspective available for all agencies. The next step is a hearing in the Council Judiciary Committee and then once adopted, it will go to the Mayor for her signature. The bill will take effect after a 30-day congressional review period.

With International Women’s Day just around the corner on March 8, this resolution is a great start and a strong step forward in advancing gender equity and equality for women in D.C., whose local push for women’s rights also aligns with the 2015 Cities for CEDAW campaign. By the end of the year, the campaign aims to sign on 100 mayors from across the country to implement local versions of CEDAW. Louisville, Ky., and San Francisco, Calif., are carrying out local CEDAW initiatives, while New York City has indicated its intentions to pass a CEDAW ordinance.

D.C. for CEDAW has gained support from local and national women’s and human rights organizations. June Zeitlin, director of human rights policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was very pleased that 50 national organizations participating in The Leadership Conference’s CEDAW Task Force supported the DC for CEDAW initiative. D.C’s initiative is just the start of a year-long campaign advancing women’s economic, political, cultural, and social equality at the local level.

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For Millions of Low-income Workers Left Behind by Public Transit Systems, Every Day’s a Snow Day

By Courtney Hutchison, PolicyLink

The record 100-plus inches of snow that has pounded the Boston metropolitan area this winter has brought the city’s ailing public transportation system to the forefront of the public debate as more than a million workers struggled to get to work in the aftermath of repeated transportation system shutdowns.

Story after story in the news has featured images of long lines of weary commuters, decrying the unacceptably long and inconsistent snow day commutes, but for the millions of Americans living in neighborhoods cut off from reliable, affordable public transportation, a two-hour commute prey to delays and inconsistent service is a daily occurrence. For these Americans, every commute is a “snow day” commute.

The media attention garnered by these snow-related transit shutdowns — and the sudden support for a multi-billion dollar revamp of Boston’s rail system — is testament to a disturbing trend in transportation decision-making all over the country: short-term failure of usually-reliable transit makes national headlines, but the ongoing neglect and disinvestment that characterize routes serving low-income communities goes unmentioned.

Neighborhoods that are cut off from quality public transportation are disproportionately low-income communities of color, highlighting the widespread, but often overlooked racial and economic discrimination that affects so many public transportation systems in this country. In Boston, it’s the divestment in certain bus routes that results in longer commute times for low-income communities and communities of color. A 2012 analysis found that even among the city’s bus commuters, Black residents spent an average of 80 minutes more a week commuting to work, often due to multiple transfers and long wait times.

In New Orleans, it’s the bus systems serving low-income and communities of color that ten years after Hurricane Katrina have never been restored. In Detroit, it’s the $137 million transportation project serving only those in the city’s business sector that will leave car-less low-income populations stranded in the city’s outskirts. Similarly, in Nashville, a $175 million investment for a Bus Rapid Transit project will service mainly wealthy, white neighborhoods, while ignoring low-income communities of color like North Nashville.

These are just a few examples. All over America, transportation systems are failing the communities that need them most.

Building equity within our transportation systems is about more than addressing gaps in service, it’s about creating transportation systems that connect people to opportunity — whether that be a job, a better school for your kids, or vital community resources like health care or grocery stores. These are building blocks of a thriving community, and ensuring that public transportation systems work for everyone will make for healthier, safer, and more economically stable communities for entire cities and regions.

As this snow-induced transit crisis in Boston has shown, making any kind of large investment to transportation infrastructure is often an uphill battle, and one that takes a surge of political will to usher in updates and repairs that in some neighborhoods have been sorely needed for decades.

That is why the Transportation Equity Caucus, a diverse coalition of over a hundred organizations, works continually to put racial and economic equity at the heart of local, state, and federal transportation decisions. Toward this end, the Caucus awarded six grantees last week with funds to educate, advocate, and host convenings to enlist support for equitable transportation policies in their communities.

Because we shouldn’t have to wait for a crisis to start a serious conversation about transportation and the way it shapes the lives, and futures, of families throughout the nation.

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President Obama Announces Proposed Retirement Savings Protections

President Obama announced new protections for retirement savers today, stating that Americans who work hard to put away money for retirement deserve peace of mind knowing that the financial retirement advice they receive is sound. The proposed rule is good news for many hard-working low- and middle-income Americans who struggle to save for an independent and secure retirement, only to have their pockets picked by the financial professionals they turn to for advice.

Less wealthy savers have the most to gain from the new Department of Labor rule. It would require all financial professionals to put the interests of their customers first when providing retirement advice. Currently, small account holders are more likely than wealthier people to get their advice from brokers, essentially salespeople, who are legally permitted to put their firm’s bottom line ahead of maximum returns for their customers.

Because they already struggle to set aside adequate retirement savings, women and communities of color in particularly are hard hit by predatory industry practices that, according to a new report by the Council of Economic Advisers, cost retirement savers $17 billion dollars a year in lost savings.

With so much money at stake, financial firms are fighting desperately to block the policy. To make their efforts appear more respectable, they have argued their efforts are motivated not by self-interest, but by concern for smaller-dollar and minority savers—and that financial firms will only serve these groups if they remain free to profit at their expense. This is a lot like the arguments we heard from the mortgage industry a decade ago, while it steered creditworthy borrowers into predatory home loans. Hard-working Americans deserve a better deal.

Today’s announcement is an important step toward ensuring that all retirement savers—not just the wealthy few—get sound advice from financial professionals who are legally required to put the customer’s interests first.

“In America, after a lifetime of hard work, you should be able to retire with dignity and a sense of security,” said President Obama, who stressed retirement security as a vital component of our country’s economy. “The strength of our economy rests on whether hardworking families can feel secure.”

In this short video, the Department of Labor breaks down this retirement savings issue:

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Why We Must Confront America’s History of Racial Terrorism

In the period between the Civil War and World War II, nearly 4,000 African-American men, women, and children were lynched in the American South during our country’s shameful era of racial terrorism.

Today, the violence and horror of these murders may have been erased from civic memory, but a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative, released last week, urges America to begin a conversation about this history of horror and the injustice and anguish that it bred. “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” examines how this era of racial terrorism shaped the geographic, economic, and political conditions of African Americans in the 20th century, and how this period’s legacy of racial inequality persists today. The report highlights how problems shaped by this period of racial terrorism are especially apparent in today’s criminal justice system, where people of color disproportionately experience excessive sentencing, capital punishment, and police abuse.

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“Lynching in America” is the product of the Equal Justice Initiative’s multi-year investigation into lynching in the 12 most active lynching states during the period between the Civil War and World War II. Between 1877 and 1950, the report documents 3,959 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The report found at least 700 more lynchings in these states than previously reported in the most recent comprehensive research done on the subject.

Lynchings were not uncommon, isolated events solely carried out by extremists and vigilantes. Rather, the report details how terror lynching was widespread, many times committed in front of officials and the entire community in broad daylight. The report describes how lynching of African Americans was racial terrorism, a phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation, and one that was widely supported or tolerated by government officials and the community. Victims of terror lynchings were not convicted of any crime; in fact, many times they were tortured and murdered in front of spectators for committing seemingly harmless, innocuous offenses such as bumping into a White person or not addressing someone properly.

Although episodes of lynching were widespread, barbaric, and abominable, not a single White person was ever convicted of murder for lynching a Black person during this period. No prominent public memorial or monument commemorates the thousands of African Americans who were lynched in our country. “Lynching in America” argues that this speaks to our country’s collective failure to value the Black lives lost in this period of racial terror.

“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of Equal Justice Initiative. “The geographic, political, economic, and social consequences of decades of terror lynchings can still be seen in many communities today and the damage created by lynching needs to be confronted and discussed. Only then can we meaningfully address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.”

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