EdBuild's First and Only School Finance Conference

Hyatt Regency
Cleveland, OH
April 21-24, 2020
COVID-19 Update

Dear Friends and Partners,

We have made the difficult decision to cancel our upcoming conference due to health concerns associated with COVID-19. We are still working to deliver conference content to all of you:

  • First, many of you requested "office hours" with our staff on particular data and policy topics. We plan to conduct these office hours via videoconference on the same days that they would have occurred at the in-person conference, so if you requested these sessions, please stay tuned for email announcements about your personalized schedule.

Please stay tuned for more details!

EdBuild’s first and only school finance conference is intended to transition core knowledge and skills to advocates and journalists who will keep our work going long after we close our doors in June, 2020. The conference will feature general sessions and “office hours” which will provide a unique opportunity for one-on-one, tailored meetings with our senior staff for specific questions that you may have related to funding policies and data. Attendees will also have the opportunity to participate in workshops designed to enhance skills related to creating maps, analyzing data, and interpreting state funding laws and policies.


The conference is structured in such a way as to focus content specifically for advocates on Tuesday and Wednesday and journalists on Thursday and Friday. While all attendees should feel free to attend both portions, advocates should attempt to arrive Monday evening and depart Thursday morning, and journalists should plan to arrive Wednesday evening and stay through Friday midday. This preliminary agenda is a description of programming that may be subject to change.
Policy or Philanthropic Partners
Academics or Students
Tuesday, April 21
9:00 – 10:30
It’s Time to Wake Up
with: Ary Amerikaner (Vice President for P-12 Policy, Practice, and Research; The Education Trust)
School finance can be complicated. Formulas are difficult to understand, state tax structures vary substantially, and debates often devolve to the question of whether funding is adequate. But what really matters, and what should we be driving toward as it relates to school funding?
10:45 – 12:00
Breakout Sessions
Breakout 1: This Land is My Land, This Land is Your My Land
EdBuild has spent a lot of time talking about school district borders and socioeconomic segregation. This is because they play a major role in the equity and adequacy of school funding. In this session we’ll talk about these effects and strategies that states can deploy to mitigate inequities.
Breakout 2: You Down with SBB?
Most experts now agree that student-based budgeting is the best funding model at the state and district level. Geographic cost drivers, like size, sparsity, and density, can substantially affect how those dollars impact the classroom, however. Should student-based budgeting formulas accommodate those drivers? And how can they, without losing the principled benefits of student-based funding? We’ll explore some options for accommodating district conditions.
12:30 – 2:00
Lunch Plenary: Marshmallows on Sticks: What to Do While Watching Your Work Burn
with: Erika Berry (former Education Aide to former Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves), Sanford Johnson (Mississippi Executive Director; Teach Plus)
We know that school funding reform is most often a game of winners and losers. So what would lead legislators who stood to gain funding to vote against a proposal? Understanding what went wrong in Mississippi can help us understand the critical elements of a successful campaign. Special guest advocates and legislative staff will join us on stage to toast roast our effort in the state.
3:00 – 4:30
Breakout Sessions
Breakout 1: Gaming the System
What are some of the secret levers for equity that advocates can build into funding formulas to ensure that they work best for our most vulnerable students? What are some of the common mistakes that sound good but end up tanking an otherwise solid formula? In this session we’ll discuss all of the small ways to make formulas better – and some of the big problems that can arise from otherwise small tweaks.
Breakout 2: Taming the System
Every time EdBuild has issued a report that details per-pupil funding for school districts across the country, state departments of education have contested them. Why do districts, states, and the federal government all have different data? Which sources should we use, and what numbers are best? In this session we’ll attempt to answer that question... to the best of our ability.
5:00 – 6:30
Wednesday, April 22
9:00 – 11:00
Notorious B.I.G
with: Kevin Carey (Vice President for Education Policy and Knowledge Management; New America)
How can states once and for all implement policies to smooth out the inequities in school finance that come from the practice of locally raised, locally governed property taxes? In this session, we’ll explain a single change to state tax code that could solve this problem without changing local control of schools.
11:00 – 1:00
Office Hours
We know your work doesn’t stop simply because you attend a conference, so we’re building in ample breaks to allow you to check in on what’s happening back home. During these breaks, our senior staff will be holding “office hours” so that we can share our accumulated knowledge in a one-on-one environment. No question is too elementary – or too advanced. Do you want to know the details of any state’s funding formula? Do you want to know where to get the best data and how to work with it? Do you want access to our automated R statistical software package? You’ll have the opportunity to set the agenda for these meetings when you register, and we’ll schedule your session on a first-come first-served basis.
1:00 – 2:30
Lunch Plenary: Trees Falling in the Forest
with: Daarel Burnette II (Education Week), Lauren Camera (US News & World Report), and Trish Crain (Alabama Media Group/AL.com)
moderated by: Valentina Payne (Chief Growth Officer; Education Post)
What do journalists care about when they cover issues related to school finance, and how do they source their stories? Hear from the best in the field on what matters in getting stories heard and tips on how to work well with local and national reporters.
3:00 – 5:00
Office Hours and Small Group Meetings
In addition to breaks for work and office hours described above, we’ll use this time to work with small groups on a number of additional transition activities. These may be purposeful networking, the chance to help us plan what comes next, or meetings with funders. We expect to have something for everyone, and we’ll follow-up with invitations to participate in one of these small group sessions.
6:00 – 9:00
Reception and Dinner
with: Andrew Rotherham (Co-Founder and Partner; Bellwether Education Partners)
with: Emmanuel Felton (Buzzfeed) in conversation with students
We would like to invite both advocates and journalists to attend a large crossover event on Wednesday evening. This agenda will be updated as programming for the evening is confirmed.
Thursday, April 23
9:00 – 10:30
You've Got to Be Kidding...
with: Cory Turner (NPR)
EdBuild’s work has taken a similar path as a journalist’s. Since we started working on issues related to school finance, we never stopped asking “why?”. We have brought our audience along for the ride with us as we peeled back the layers of the onion. In this session, we will recap our groundbreaking exploration into the segregating nature of school district borders, and discuss what our lessons mean for the future of school finance.
11:00 – 12:30
Breakout Sessions
Breakout 1: Climbing the Money Tree
School finance reform can sometimes seem like a money grab -- with each district making noise about how much money they will get and how much they need. But too often the narrative around finance reform revolves around the question of "how much". The questions of "from whom" and "to where" are likely far more important, but it is not easy to detect and describe these more nuanced elements of reform proposals. In this session we will talk about what to look for in funding formulas, how to analyze their impact, and how to talk about that in a broader sense.
Breakout 2: Alphabet Soup
FRL is not poverty. ADA is not enrollment. ELL is not bilingual. "Gifted" is not gifted. The specific definitions of these acronyms can drastically affect how much money goes to each district. A lot of inequity can be hidden in these definitions alone. In this session, we will talk about what questions to ask to get to the specific definition of these key funding drivers and how to understand and explain their implications.
1:00 – 2:30
Lunch Plenary: The System is Rigged
with: Adam Harris (The Atlantic)
We know inherently that those influencing and making decisions related to education dramatically underrepresent school districts serving primarily students of color. For the first time ever, we have calculated the actual scale of this problem at a national and statewide level. In this lunch session we'll review data about political voice and power imbalances in the state legislature.
3:00 – 4:15
Office Hours and Small Group Meetings
In addition to breaks for work and office hours described above, we’ll use this time to work with small groups on a number of additional transition activities. These may be purposeful networking, the chance to help us plan what comes next, or meetings with funders. We expect to have something for everyone, and we’ll follow-up with invitations to participate in one of these small group sessions.
4:30 – 5:30
Breakout Sessions
Breakouts 1 & 2: Who's My Type?
In addition to standard office hours, this block will feature two breakout sessions. Each attendee will receive a designation based on their state's funding formula -- either "student-based" or "resource-based". Those focused on national issues will be assigned a funding type in order to contextualize how funding formulas actually work. During these breakout sessions we will put this designation into an operational model to help demonstate how money flows to districts and what it means for those in change of spending decisions. We will talk about how each state ranks nationally on the "purity scale" of either model.
5:30 – 7:00
Friday, April 24
9:00 – 10:15
Two Roads Diverged in the Wood
with: Erika Wilson (Associate Professor of Law; UNC School of Law)
The history of school finance is a long and winding road, influenced by everything from the policies adopted by the very first settlers to the civil rights movement. But in the 1970s, the Supreme Court took an unfortunate path that scaled back protections for students who most need additional help. In this morning plenary, we will discuss how those rulings dramatically changed the landscape of public education and how they have significantly hindered the federal government's role in ensuring all children have access to a quality education.
10:30 – 12:00
Closing Plenary: Speak Loudly, Carry a Tiny Stick
The federal Department of Education gets a lot of attention in the press, but actually has very limited ability to step in when students are being left behind. With the 2020 Presidential election looming, we will spend the last part of the conference discussing the plans put forward by the candidates and which plans will go furthest to changing this dynamic.