States Advance K-12 Funding Equity in 2022

K-12

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As 2022 legislative sessions wrap up and state budgets get finalized in many states, a clearer picture is now available on what funding choices states are making this year. While states and districts grapple with myriad challenges — including staffing shortages, inflation and impacts from enrollment declines on budgets — leaders are also enacting policies to improve critical services for students.

Below are some of the K-12 funding reforms we identified in our State Education Policy Tracker:

More Student-Centered Funding Models and Support for Students With Unique Learning Needs

Student-based funding models, where funds are allocated to districts based on each student’s unique learning needs, have become increasingly popular. This year, Tennessee enacted the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA) overhauling their 30-year-old formula with a new student-centered approach beginning in the 2023-24 school year. TISA allocates a base funding amount and additional support for students with unique learning needs. TISA directs other funds to priority areas of early literacy and career and technical education; it also offers outcome incentives to schools based on student achievement. Tennessee is funding TISA with an additional $1 billion commitment in recurring state dollars.

Vermont enacted S. 287, which makes significant changes to the pupil weighting factors in the school aid formula. The bill also creates a universal income declaration form to identify students from low-income backgrounds. The adjusted student weights in the bill are for students from low-income backgrounds, emerging bilingual learners and low population density districts. Based on information from a state contracted study, Vermont designed some of the most generous weights for students from low-income backgrounds and for emerging bilingual learners in the country. The universal declaration form replaces the current practice of using eligibility for nutrition benefits starting in the 2023-24 school year.

Investments in Social and Emotional Learning, Mental Health and Community Schools

Early research suggests the COVID-19 pandemic broadly increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression in pre-K through grade 12 youth. After recognizing the need for comprehensive student support has grown, Washington enacted legislation (H.B. 1664) that significantly increased state allocations for school nurses, social workers, psychologists and counselors over the next three years. The estimated general fund expenditure to implement these allocations is $531 million in the 2023-25 biennium.

Similarly, Delaware enacted H.B. 300 increasing school counselor, social worker and psychologist positions over a three-year period for students in grades six through eight. These investments will expand students’ access to mental health services and social and emotional learning.

Community schools can be an effective approach to address students’ holistic needs — including academic, social, emotional, physical and mental needs — and improve student outcomes. California has made significant state investments in this model. After passing the California Community Schools Partnership Act and approving $2.8 billion in funding for the California Community Schools Partnership Program in 2021, California appropriated an additional $1.1 billion in its 2022-23 state budget to support community school implementation grants.

Universal Free School Meals

The federal government provided universal free meals to students since the beginning of the pandemic. In July, Congress extended these services through the summer in the Keep Kids Fed Act of 2022 but did not extend universal free meals further — meaning universal free meals will no longer be available to students in many states as they return to school.

In 2022, Colorado, Massachusetts and Vermont have taken action to continue universal free meal programs. Massachusetts included universal free meals in the fiscal year 2023 state budget and Vermont enacted the Free School Meals Act creating a one-year universal free meals program. These states join California and Maine, which extended universal free meals in 2021. Colorado enacted Healthy Meals for All Public School Students that will put the decision before voters in a November referendum to create their own universal free meals program.

Allocating the historic influx of federal aid is just one of many funding decisions state leaders have faced in 2022. States also made important decisions on how to structure funding systems in more equitable ways that will impact the resources and services provided to students for years to come.

Author profile
Senior Policy Analyst | cduncombe@ecs.org
Chris focuses on K-12 school finance as a senior policy analyst at Education Commission of the States. Chris has 10 years of experience working on fiscal policy at the state and local level with a focus on school funding, and his previous research in Virginia informed state policymakers in their design of equity-based school funding. Chris believes in the power of diverse, well-resourced learning environments and the key role school finance plays in setting the stage for student success.

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