Thus, for example, the Working Group recommended that a foundation school budget contain an extra 50% beyond the “core instruction amount” for each special education student given the additional resources needed in terms of teacher aides, professionals and in some cases out-of-district placements. Districts would budget an additional 50% above the core amount for each student who qualified for free lunch (i.e. most severe poverty), and an additional 25% for each student who, while in poverty, qualified for reduced price (but not free) lunch. For students who combined several of these higher needs at once, such as a special education student who also was an English language learner, the weights would be added, in this case +50% +20% = +70%.
B. The Current Funding Formula’s “Student Success Factor”
The current funding formula collapsed its formula-based high needs adjustment to a single category, called the “student success factor” of +40%, which it adds for each student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch. This single adjustment falls short of the Working Group’s recommendation in several ways. It makes no adjustment for special education, career/technical education students or students learning the English language. It does not differentiate between free lunch (extreme poverty) and reduced lunch (poverty).
C. English Language Learners And Extreme Poverty Students In The Urban Core
The current formula’s failure to add extra funding for English language learners is particularly mystifying, as it is obvious that if a district has two students in poverty, and first is English speaking while the second is not, there is no question that the cost to educate the second student will be higher than the cost for the first student. In justifying this feature of the formula, the Department of Education asserted that the difference was not significant, as the bulk of children learning English are concentrated in the urban core and also live in poverty, thus the “student success” factor’s greater weight would provide adequate funding for this group.
In my opinion, there are several things wrong with the Department of Education’s assessment. First, the “student success” factor does not differentiate between poverty and extreme poverty, even though the cost to educate students in these groups was shown by research to be significantly different, and there is a greater concentration of extreme poverty in the urban core. Second the claimed link between children in poverty and those learning the English language is weaker than the Department contends. For example, in 2012, the distribution of free/reduced price lunch (FRPL), Hispanic and English as a second language among students was as follows: