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New Foundations for K-12 Public Education

Updated: Mar 15

People often say our education system needs reform. Here's how we might do that.

Big Picture

The current K-12 public education system is failing the American public. It neglects students of low socioeconomic status, rendering underfunded schools unable to adequately prepare America’s youth for the working world. Improving the systemic and monetary foundations of our education system will address the widening gap between high and low-performing schools, and ultimately ensure that Americans can better compete on the global stage.

  • Graphic From: Notable Achievement Gaps Exist Among Ethnic Groups. 2018. LAO Report. 8 Sept. 2020.

  • This graph illustrates the drastic achievement gaps between low-income Asian, white, Hispanic and Black students in English language arts in three different age groups.

Operative Definitions

  1. Federal tax credit: A type of credit that reduces the amount of income owed to federal and state governments.

  2. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 funds: Funds that provide financial assistance to local educational agencies for low-income children. The majority of Title I funds are allocated at the district level through four grants.

  3. Title II of ESEA: A U.S. Department of Education grant program that provides supplemental funding to help improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers and other school administrators.

  4. High-needs schools: As defined by a resource article published by Walden University, this term refers to schools that fall under one or more of the following three classifications: “1) more than 30% of the school population comes from low-income families, 2) the school has more teaching vacancies than 75% of schools statewide and 3) a high percentage of teachers are teaching outside of their field and/or lack teaching credentials.”

  5. Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program: A program administered by the Federal Student Aid division within the U.S. Department of Education that provides up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for practitioners teaching full-time for five consecutive years at low-income schools or educational service agencies.

  6. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS): An independent, nonprofit organization seeking to improve the quality of teaching for all students.

Important Facts and Statistics

  1. If the national graduation rate was increased from 83% to 90%, the GDP would increase by over $5.5 billion for every year that this stayed consistent.

  2. The average student loan debt of educators stands at around $55,000 as of July 2021; of those who remain in debt as of this time, around 14% owe $105,000 or more in student debts.

  3. Public school teachers make 19.2% less in comparison to other workers with an equivalent amount of education.

  4. Black and Hispanic children have lower achievement and graduation rates than white children due to them being twice as likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts.

  5. K-12 total annual standardized testing costs states $1.7 billion per year.

Eight-Point Plan

(1) Establish new school funding models with existing funds. 

State districts should implement a system in which a fixed percentage of district resources is directly given to schools. Districts will start with 10% and increase by five to 10% each year until roughly two-thirds of district funds go directly to schools. To flatten funding disparities, redistribute school funding coming from local property taxes. Assist K-12 schools with identifying available grants for which they qualify, and partner districts with local employers that provide students with professional development skills.

(2) Provide educators with additional resources. 

Use the federal tax code to create a $10,000 refundable federal teacher tax credit for teachers in low-income school districts, increasing wages by $192 per week. Simplify loan forgiveness program guidelines to ease the process in which teachers determine eligibility and expand the existing Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program to cover private loans and part-time teachers. Provide ongoing professional development support, through Title II ESEA funds, specifically in remote education environments, with a particular focus on teachers at high-needs schools.

(3) Address inequities at high-needs schools. 

Distribute Title I ESEA funds to low-income school districts and verify budget plans before granting funds to ensure proper utilization. Incentivize teacher recruitment, retention and equitable teacher assignments with a federal tax credit. Promote NBPTS financial incentives across all states for teachers at high-needs schools. Reduce food insecurity by supplementing federal programs with funding from school initiatives and private programs.

(4) Reform standardized testing and student assessment. 

High-stakes standardized testing holds school districts and students accountable by directly influencing teacher pay and student funding. Shift the focus away from high-stakes testing and employ alternatives such as performance assessments. Implement a robust low-stakes measurement system that evaluates statistically representative samples of students, liberating funding directed toward standardized testing, and delink merit-based pay for teachers from standardized test scores.

(5) Implement STEM and ESL initiatives. 

Increase STEM initiatives through public-private partnerships and support the development of early childhood STEM initiatives. American students are consistently outperformed by their international peers in STEM. Recruit undergraduate and graduate students majoring in STEM-related areas of study to consider applying for K-12 teaching positions. Build the supply of qualified bilingual teachers for dual language programs by establishing alternative certification pathways, by recruiting teachers from abroad and by partnering with teacher preparation programs. 

(6) Strengthen collaborations with local art organizations. 

Though public support for arts programs in schools has grown significantly in recent years, budgets for these programs are still often the first to be cut when resources become scarce. As personnel costs often account for most of the expenses, promoting collaborations with local arts organizations can reduce the necessity for additional hires while allowing students to gain valuable knowledge and experiences. 

(7) Incorporate family and community into public education. 

1% of Title I, Part A ESSA funds are allocated for parent engagement initiatives. Maintain these funds and ensure school districts submit parent engagement best practice plans to state education agencies. Hire technology advisers to improve web-based platforms supporting parent-teacher communication. Advisers will keep costs down for low-income schools without adequate resources. Expand teacher training programs for community engagement and parent communication, specifically for English language learners and racially diverse and low-income student populations. Specifically, it is necessary to expand Teach for America (TFA) to aid in training and engagement programs for low-income communities. Statewide Family Engagement Center (SFEC) Program grants are available for parent education and family training. Teachers, nurses and trained parent educators should conduct home visits with K-12 students to build community. Head Start provides home visits to children from birth to age 5 and can serve as a model for program expansion.

(8) Incentivize “underperforming” schools to improve outcomes. 

Recognizing that the disproportionate number of resources and funding schools have access to is a major factor that has led to the current circumstances, the allocation of funds should be assessed by education authorities to determine what each “underperforming” school is lacking and/or how the money can be better spent. Additionally, if these schools were to be able to improve outcomes, additional funding could be given as a reward. Details as to what constitutes meaningful improvement (i.e. increases in students’ standardized test scores) and how long the improvement should last to be considered successful should be determined beforehand, with the help of education authorities and experts of the field.

Why This Initiative Is Important

Education is essential for building the foundations of success, improving the standards of living for all Americans and keeping America competitive on the global stage.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors.


The following student(s) worked on this nonpartisan proposal: Santiago M. Rodriguez, University of Redlands; Royce Williams, University of California, Davis; Michelle Krolicki, California State University, San Bernardino; Marianne Swan, State University of New York College at Oneonta; Deja Jackson, Lafayette College.

The following individuals worked with our student interns and contributed expertise, wisdom and moral support to the development of this proposal:

  1. Dawnelle Hyland: CEO of Senior Training and Learning Consultant, Align Leadership; Co-Founder and Executive Director, Trainer Designs Global. Raleigh-Burham, NC.

  2. Jo Napolitano: Freelance Writer, Argonne National Laboratory; Author. Brooklyn, NY.

  3. Keith Osajima: Professor of Race and Ethnic Studies, University of Redlands. Redlands, CA.

  4. Eesir Kaur: Director of Schools, Rocketship Public Schools. Redwood City, CA.

  5. Natalie Wexler: Senior Contributor, Forbes; Author. Washington, DC.

  6. David Rogers: Faculty Director of Digital Business Strategy, Columbia Business School; Author and Consultant, Digital Transformation Playbook. New York, NY.

Note: Not all participants agree with every aspect of this proposal. To arrive at a proposal that takes multiple views into account requires compromise and difficult decisions.



Allegretto, S. & Mishel, L. “Teacher pay penalty dips but persists in 2019.” Economic Policy Institute, 17 Sept., 2020

Bahn, K., Benner, M., Johnson, S. & Roth, E. “How to give teachers a 10,000 raise. Center for American Progress. 13 Jul. 2018

Boyle, A., August, D., Tabaku, L., Cole, S., & Simpson-Baird, A. “Dual Language Education Programs: Current State Policies and Practices.” U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition. Dec. 2015,

Briggs, S. “8 Alternatives to High-Stakes Standardized Tests. informED.” 21 Nov. 2015,

Clark, C. & Laurence, T. “Exploring alternatives for school-based funding.” Texas Center for Educational Research. 1998,

Delisle, J.D. & Holt, A. “The tangled world of teacher debt.” Education Next, 17 (4). 2021

Fry, R. and Thomas, D. “Prior to COVID-19, child poverty rates had reached record lows in U.S.” Pew Research Center. Nov. 2020

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