Equity in Funding?

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In the quest for equity in education, some school districts, including Shelby County, will be adopting student-based budgeting for the 2018-2019 school year.  Here is what you need to know about what these changes are and how it seeks to even the playing field for students with the most need.

1.       The district will not have a set amount for all students, such as $8,200 per pupil. Instead, every school will receive $3,400 per student.

2.       There are categories of need that will allocate more funds to specific students.

a.       Students with disabilities

b.       Mobility (how often students move from school to school, a rate that is measured by the amount of students who transfer into a school after the 20th day)

c.       Student performance (Students who score below grade level and students who score above grade level

d.       Grade level (Additional funds for K – 5, with a higher weight on K – 2 students)

Not only am I an educator, but I am also a parent.  I have yet to be in a place where those two positions and identities agreed on educational reform.

The educator in me sees this a unique opportunity to provide students with a greater need more funding on the school level.  Within this model, a school’s principal has greater autonomy on how to best serve the students at the school, whether that is with more teaching assistants and specialized staff or additional training.  A principal would be able to have the funds necessary for students who need greater levels of support. As an educator, this appears to be a great opportunity to address specific deficits in the students I teach.  Most recently, I taught 36 5th graders in one class.  Only 5 students were identified as students with disabilities; however, there were only three students who were performing at grade level.  The other 28 students were below grade level and would be eligible for additional funds with this model. Thus, all but three of my students would have received additional funds within this model and depending on how the mobility rate was determined, those individuals may receive additional funding if they came into the school year after the first day.

The thought of having additional funds for these students sounds like music to my ears. We could get leveled readers, additional curriculum resources, or even an additional assistant for small group instruction. As a teacher, student-based funding would be the answer to the disparities that exist in low-income, impoverished schools – provided principals used these funds appropriately.

Yet, as a parent of an upcoming 6th grader, this model leaves her out.  My daughter is an “on-grade level” student.  Under this model, she would not receive any additional funding outside of the $3,400. She is not identified as a student with disabilities, would not qualify under “mobility” since we don’t move often, and will be going to middle school, which isn’t a priority grade in this model.  I’m not an expert in this model – yet I emphatically know, it takes more than $3,400 to educate her for the entire school year. As a parent, I’m a bit frustrated, thinking, there seems to be embedded “punishment” for being on grade-level.

There is a constant dichotomy present in my life – one that advocates for the students I serve, who are in contrast to the daughter I am raising.  This situation is no different. I applaud Shelby County for seeking opportunities to provide equity in education, like other districts in Denver, Houston, Nashville, and Seattle, but those cities demographics are quite different than Memphis.

I’d love to learn more about how this model will help and benefit all students. And because being a parent is my priority, I’d love to know how this model benefits MY daughter and many other “on grade-level” students.


To read more about Shelby County’s proposed plan, click here.

Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.