Duncan: Education has always been funded chiefly at the state and local level in the United States—the federal government contributes only about 8% of total K–12 dollars. And that basic division of responsibilities is not going to change anytime soon. Fortunately, most of the great ideas for improving education come from state and local government. And federal Title I dollars substantially reduce funding disparities between high-poverty school districts and better-off districts. The Excellence and Equity Commission, a panel of leading experts from across the political spectrum, is developing recommendations for restructuring school finance systems to achieve greater equity in the distribution of educational resources and further student performance, especially for the students at the lower end of the achievement gap.
BE: But what’s being done now to make sure those students facing the greatest obstacles to academic success will receive the greatest support?
Duncan: This is a paramount concern of the Obama administration. It runs like a ribbon through all our initiatives, from dramatically expanding the Teacher Incentive Fund (which rewards effective educators who serve in high-need schools and subjects), to the Investing in Innovation Fund, Promise Neighborhoods, and Race to the Top, which incentivized states to direct more resources to high-need students. Still, as a nation we have a long, long way to go to achieve educational equity.
–Additional reporting by Robin White Goode