/Who is EdBuild

Who is EdBuild

Questions about the group swirled after Tuesday’s announcement by legislative leaders that they had hired an organization from New Jersey with a two year old to reevaluate Mississippi’s school funding formula. What is EdBuild? What is their motivation? How do they get their funding? The beginnings EdBuild, a Jersey City-based education group, was established in 2014. It is currently headed by Rebecca Sibilia. Sibilia was previously a member of StudentsFirst, which Michelle Rhee founded in 2010 after she resigned as chancellor for the Washington, D.C. public schools system. StudentsFirst was focused on reforms such as the overhaul of teacher tenure, linking teacher evaluation and compensation to student development and advocating charter schools and the competition that they offer public schools. Sibilia stated that the majority of her work for StudentsFirst was focused on funding issues. She explained that one of the things she learned was that there are incredibly inconsistent and illogical policies regarding state funding. This is what led her to create EdBuild. The group has since produced several studies about inequitable school funding across the country, including a report that shows the most disparate districts in terms of per pupil funding, median household income and property value, as well as a report on the poverty rate in those areas. The Vestavia Hills school district in Alabama has a median household income exceeding $80,000 and a $6,143 local revenue per student. Birmingham is next door, but the median household income drops below $31,000 and local per pupil funding falls to $4,326. Nearly half the population lives in poverty. EdBuild examined the school funding models of each state, looking at their base funding amounts, local revenue districts, and how funding is distributed based on student characteristics. When the group was formed, it set a goal: By 2020, four states would have adopted reforms to their funding formulas and “moved towards a weighted system for student funding that prioritizes student needs.” Three states, including Mississippi are currently working with EdBuild in this regard. Other states EdBuild is currently working in Connecticut and Georgia. Sibilia says that Georgia’s work is very similar to Mississippi’s. She described how she worked directly with the Georgia governor’s staff to determine the funding priorities. Then, she attended several subcommittee meetings consisting of superintendents as well as legislators, business leaders, and other stakeholders in the education system. “We got a real sense of the priorities from people on the ground and helped them design funding formulas that put more money in low-income schools and made Special Education much more logical.” Sibilia stated that the formula was approved by the subcommittee and will be headed to the Legislature in 2017. Laura Hipp is a spokesperson for the Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves said that the state chose EdBuild because of the group’s “focus” and “experience simplifying school financing to meet student needs. Hipp stated that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (or MAEP) is “largely program-based” and has led to high administrative costs. It has not taken into account actual student needs. Hipp stated that more than half the states have special funding for students with disabilities and other special needs. “Mississippi, which is one of six states that fund program costs regardless how severe a student’s disability may be,” Hipp said. Sibilia stated that EdBuild supports funding formulas that allow school districts to have flexibility. Instead of giving money to schools that are designated for school buses, money can be used by school districts according to specific student needs. Many states are moving towards weighting rural areas. Instead of giving transportation dollars that are only earmarked for transportation, you add weight to the funding formula that is applied to every student in a small or sparse school district. She explained that funds can be used to fund anything that helps students get to school. This doesn’t create an incentive for schools to only spend money on transportation. If necessary, school districts could be forced to consolidate their bus routes and put money toward better food for their children or other needs. She said that it’s about creating an environment where innovation can occur. Charter school involvement Sibilia stated that EdBuild does not advocate for charter schools but aims to provide technical assistance to legislators and other state leaders. EdBuild donors include the Walton Family Foundation and the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation. The Helmsley Charitable Trust also funds charter schools and organizations that support them. “Our mission is ensure that every student can attend high-quality schools and receive a great education wherever they live. She stated that the vast majority of students she works with are in traditional public schools. “So the idea that we’re an advocate organization coming in to disrupt or divert funds towards charter schools would be so negligent that it wouldn’t make sense for us to be involved in this work at any level,” she said. However, in a video posted by American Federation of Children last year, Sibilia states that EdBuild will focus on governance and charter schools. “Thirty-five to fifty percent of funds that go to schools are generated by property taxes. In 36 states, property taxes cannot be used to fund schools of choice,” Sibilia stated in the video. “So… We have had charter schools for 25 years, but we still treat them as experiments. That’s a problem that we must fix. … We have to tackle the property tax fight. If we do that, we’ll be able to talk about governance in a totally different way.” She concluded that the main reason the system is broken is because “we can’t solve the property tax issue” since property taxes cannot go to the traditional public school system. Mississippi charter schools can currently receive both local and state tax dollars. However, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality could have an impact on that. Many in Mississippi’s education community are skeptical about the study’s goals since its announcement by the leadership. The Parents’ Campaign is an advocacy group for education that advocates for full funding of Mississippi’s current funding formula. They questioned the statement by the leadership that the funding formula should not be student-based. “The American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, a DC-based corporate bill mill that lobbyizes for school privatization, has proposed model legislation called the “Student Centered Funding Act,” Executive Director Nancy Loome stated in a statement. Sibilia’s response to a question regarding Detroit’s bankruptcy and its impact on schools was criticized by others. She said bankruptcy could be a “huge chance for school districts.” This video is from the same event she spoke about property taxes and charter schools. However, she told Mississippi Today that her comments were misunderstood. She replied, “Anyone applying that quote to the way we will engage in Mississippi hasn’t read our website, haven’t read our mission, and they’ll say what they want.” To support this work, you can make a regular donation to us today as part of the Spring Member Drive. 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