One of the principles of equity is to give more resources – through scholarships, for example – or take less – in the case of taxes – to those who are in a worse economic situation. This being the case, why has it never been questioned that the funding of public schools is essentially the same for all, without distinguishing between those in affluent environments and those in disadvantaged neighborhoods?
The other outstanding students or when the merit is not only in the grade
A study by the Jaume Bofill Foundation, presented this Thursday in Barcelona, proposes for the first time to review this constant of the Spanish educational system. This entity claims to move towards an asymmetric school financing model: that is, to give more resources to schools with vulnerable families, so that they can have more staff and combat school failure with better resources.
“The low academic results are not random, but are concentrated in certain students and socially disadvantaged centers, who have needs that must be accompanied”, warned Ismael Palacín, director of the foundation, during the presentation of the report The equity formula. According to PISA data, for example, students from households with lower incomes have a level of mathematical or linguistic competences up to 50 points lower. “It is an internationally documented phenomenon: those families with more economic resources have it much easier to support their children educationally”, detailed Miquel Ángel Alegre, co-author of the study together with Marcel Pagès.
Even so, currently the main and almost the only variable that the Administration takes into account to transfer the money to the thousands of educational centers is the number of students and classroom groups it has. That is, its size. “We invest the same in all schools and then we make some compensations: now a reception classroom here, now a social integration technician there … As if it were a patch,” Palacín has exemplified.
In this sense, in Catalonia there are programs, such as the Improvement of Educational Opportunities, or those promoted by the municipalities themselves, which make the most disadvantaged centers have a little more resources. According to this study, on average they are 800 euros more per student per year. But this “supplement”, according to Alegre, “is not significant” to improve results.
To turn this model around, the Bofill Foundation has designed a mathematical formula to distribute public funds according to many more variables that take into account the socioeconomic reality of schools, such as the number of vulnerable students or those with special educational needs. This is already the case in other countries such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Finland or Australia, according to the academic authors of the study.
The Bofill Foundation proposal is limited to Catalonia, since this is its field of study, and it also raises three action scenarios in terms of the possibilities of budgetary investment that this model would entail. They are betting on what they call “guarantees”, since it would be equivalent to an investment of 643 million euros, an amount close to 576 million of the extraordinary resources linked to the pandemic. In this way, and according to the calculations of the Bofill Foundation, the redistribution they advocate would make it possible to contribute more money to centers in disadvantaged environments without having to take it away from those in well-off areas.
“The moment is optimal, because we are in a period of growth,” defended Palacín, who explained that they have already requested a meeting with the Department of Education and with the political parties in the Parliament to transfer the financing proposal to them.
Practical case: 1,400 euros more per student and year
One of the peculiarities of the study is that the algorithm they have designed to calculate the financing of the centers allows to simulate practical cases based on the different budgetary scenarios. A secondary school considered to be of “very high complexity”, with 468 students, of whom 99 have special educational needs and 102 a low performance, currently has 6,992 euros per student per year. With financing “by formula”, as they call it in the study, and in a context in which the COVID-19 reinforcements were maintained, this institute would increase its financing by 21% to 8,482 euros per student.
This injection of resources would be enough to start improving results, according to the researchers, since it would allow hiring a teacher for every two classrooms – that is, significantly reducing ratios -, a host classroom teacher, a specialist in inclusive education, two integration technicians and up to eight social educators.
In this sense, the asymmetric distribution proposal, according to its promoters, would not only allow the centers with more difficulties to have more resources, but would also be able to count on them from the beginning – not based on certain social, regional or local programs – and with greater freedom to decide what to spend them on. As Palacín recalled, in some centers of maximum complexity, which have been reinforced with more teachers, sometimes their greatest need was to have more administrative staff, because what they need is to free the management team, who spend many hours dedicating themselves to helping families to fill out social assistance forms.
“In this mathematical formula there is a lot of engineering and it can be a bit overwhelming, but in the end it is common sense: that each center has the resources it needs,” summarizes Palacín.