Strategy 3: Ensure Equitable Access to Key Educational Resources.

Even in this wealthiest of nations, students in rural and urban communities alike across the country face significant obstacles to critical educational resources. Many of our nation’s lowest performing schools are also the schools in a district or state where poverty is concentrated, populations mobile, and resources and support institutions rare. The schools in these communities are a reflection of structural policies in housing, transportation and jobs that create a concentration of poverty and resource gaps. If these challenges are left unaddressed, a state may fail in its obligation to provide adequate resources to a school district, while still holding the district accountable for the low performance of the enrolled students. A new accountability system must not look solely at individual school and district performance, but also include measures and consequences where the low performance at the school level is clearly linked to the failure by a district or state to provide adequate educational resources. Common opportunity resource standards could be developed and included as part of federal ESEA accountability. Federal oversight would establish accountability for inputs as well as outcomes, and for states and not just schools or districts. Making states accountable for closing the opportunity gap and tying it to their funding levels will prompt them to provide equitable opportunities to learn.

3.1: Adopt, implement, and enforce common resource standards to ensure students access to equitable instructional resources.

Resource opportunity standards would include national benchmarks to ensure access to: (1) high-quality, early childhood education; (2) highly qualified and effective teachers; (3) a high-quality college-and career-bound curriculum, that includes the arts and physical education, and that will prepare all students for college work and citizenship; and (4) equitable instructional resources as a condition for receiving federal funds under the ESEA. As envisioned in the now-pending Student Bill of Rights Act, H.R. 2451, federal funding would be tied to each state’s demonstrated progress toward equitable access to education resources.

Potential Policy Actors:

  • Federal legislators and/or policymakers
  • State legislators
  • State education agencies

3.2: Develop guidance, and oversight to implement common resource standards and seek transparent reporting of resources.

In order create a system of public education in which race, ethnicity and/or income are no longer significant predictors of student educational resource access or achievement, and to facilitate equitable outcomes, each year states should be required to publicly report how resources are being distributed between and within districts. This reporting requirement will provide transparency that will better inform parents about the quality of their child’s educational experience, and help ensure state’s implementation of the Common Resource Standards. State education agencies should develop standards to guide implementation of the standards at the district level. Although the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights currently collects a sample of relevant data from states, its Civil Rights Data Collection system must be strengthened to handle the increased data collection and analysis resulting from state Common Resource Standards reporting requirements.

Potential Policy Actors:

  • Federal legislators and the U.S. Department of Education
  • State legislators
  • State education agencies

Policy Actions to Ensure Equitable Access to Key Educational Resources

  • The federal government -- most likely the U.S. Department of Education -- should support the development and monitoring of research-based resource equity standards that establish a baseline of necessary educational resources; and states should be required to develop a plan to meet those standards.
  • The federal government should condition funding on states’ efforts to close opportunity gaps in their education systems, and must prescribe benchmarks for accomplishing that goal. This requirement should also include a trigger that compels states to conduct a resource audit when schools consistently perform below average on academic achievement measures. States should be provided with technical assistance, incentives and subsidies to encourage the implementation of equity measures.
  • The federal government should compel states to review inter- and intra-district resource distribution using established indicators. States that fail to comply would be subject to withdrawal of federal funds, and the federal government would have the right to apply a direct remedy to correct the problem. The federal government would provide states with official guidance on how to become and remain compliant. It would also reward compliance by awarding leadership academy grants and opportunities to state education leaders for remarkable gains or successful implementation of common resource standards.
  • State education agencies should conduct annual reviews and audits at the local level to monitor resource distribution, and should offer incentives to implement equity measures and issue public reports on resource distribution for education.

Action Steps for Advocates

  • Find out what the barriers are to equitable access to resources in your school system or community, publicize the results of that assessment, and call on state and local education authorities to correct the inequities.
  • Write sign-on letters and letters to the editor about the extent and consequences of resource inequities in your school system. Use real examples to illustrate your point.
  • Call on state education agencies to perform annual resource reviews and to ensure equitable distribution -- and include remedies for inequities, such as financial receivership arrangements for districts that do not comply.
  • Organize forums and town hall meetings. Invite local and state-level representatives to answer questions from parents and the community on school resource issues; try to secure public commitments to address inequities.
  • Write model legislation and seek out a legislator to champion the effort to pass and implement a reform of your state’s tax or wealth-based education funding system.
  • Develop a federal legislative or regulatory agenda with standards for equitable distribution of resources, and which calls for tighter federal controls on funds for states that do not comply with equitable distribution guidelines.
  • Work with the media to publicize information about school resource disparities or challenges that undermine student achievement and school success.
  • Ask your school or district for per pupil and per school education spending data to identify trends and lobby for necessary education reforms.
  • Learn how to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request so that you can access restricted government data that you can be highlight at school board meetings and in the media.
  • Learn how to file an education discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Lobby the legislature on issues related to equalize the allocation of resources among schools and districts.
  • Learn how to file a state or local referendum on education issues.
  • Launch a candidate for the local school board who shares your education views.