An OPEN Letter to Orleans Parish School Board: Differentiated Funding, Equity, and Accountability

Friends of OPEN,Today, the Orleans Parish School Board will take up the matter of approving a differentiated funding formula for New Orleans as called for in Act 467. While there is much debate about this particular policy, there are four considerations I would hope guide tonight’s debate and ultimately inform the resolution of this issue:

  • Equity in funding is needed – public education’s most aspirational value is equality of outcomes. But there can be no equality outcomes without equitable investments. Our city and district has struggled to serve the most vulnerable populations. This funding formula helps us distribute the pie in accordance with the level of need. This differentiatedfunding formula is a necessary first step on a much longer journey to address equity systemically.
  • Transparency is also needed – While the premise of differentiated funding enjoys broad support (90 percent of schools have signed on in support), we owe the public greater transparency. Members of this community, including parents, are concerned about the appropriate use of public dollars — especially in light of recent news that some schools have not appropriately used these funds. The public trust requires transparency to show that show dollars are used as intended across ALL types of schools.
  • Accountability is needed – Providing funding is only one step in the journey to significantly shift academic outcomes for English Language Learners, High school, Overaged, Special needs and gifted students. These investments can and must have an impact on performance. Over time, there is a need to develop anorth-star for student achievement among these populations.
  1. How are these populations performing overall today?
  2. What critical benchmarks do we aim to reach in the next three to five years?Local accountability measures should be developed collaboratively and give consideration to expanded measures of student success. We know test scores are only ONE small measure in capturing the overall growth and development of a student.
  • Fairness, Compromise and Leadership – There has been a very short window of time for our local School Board and district leadership to best understand and frame the practical implications of this policy.
  1. How will the district ensure the hold-harmless provision of two percent (2%) for schools that will be adversely impacted by the new formula?
  2. Is there a path forward that allows for a win-win provision? Is there still an opportunity to address concerns of schools with high gifted populations by increasing the weight by an additional amount?
If  there are such unanswered questions and opportunities to advance a resolution that brings along the remaining 10 percent of schools and ensures we assuage their concerns, then it is incumbent on our leadership (the Superintendent and the School Board) to take the necessary steps to do what is right, not simply what is fastest or most popular.
Be clear that time is of the essence. It is important that the Board act responsibly in a timely manner so that all schools are able to build budgets for 2016-2017. So, it is incumbent that they act in a short time (March 31, 2016 would be optimal).
My greatest hope is there will be room to do the most difficult work of leadership. I am certain this School Board stands in support of equity. I am certain that with leadership, we can win as a community, not simply another instance of a  group of winners and losers – “us vs. them”.
Dr. King once said,
“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency ask the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” 

Let us take the steps and necessary time to do what is right by all of our children and that undergirds the mantle toward a unified school district.
Sincerely yours,

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Deirdre Johnson Burel
Executive Director, Orleans Public Education Network

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