10/21/2010 12:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Broken System of Education Finance

The Republican candidate in my CA-15 district, Scott Kirkland, recently weighed in on the film Waiting for 'Superman', with an assessment about public education that was spot on. Mr. Kirkland observed that the film effectively conveys the core issues in public education and that we must ferret out what is both good for our pocketbooks and, most importantly, good for our kids. I couldn't agree more.

When it comes to what is good for our pocketbooks, many may be surprised with how our education system is funded. One might naturally assume that individual communities and states are in the best position to make decisions about how to provide public education for their communities. Local control, consequently, has always dictated public education financing. In fact, state and local governments provide over 90 percent of education funding. So when we talk about our deteriorating public schools we are talking about the failure of an enterprise run and funded by local government, with the Federal government more or less relegated to the sidelines.

On another financing note, let me add that Mr. Kirkland also got it right when he observed that our state and local governments are spending an average of over $9,000 per pupil, more than is spent by any other nation. Given the poor return we are seeing on our investment, what we are doing is clearly not working. This is the "fix" that is at the heart of the issue.

When it comes to what is good for our kids, the frustrating part is that we know what works. Mr. Kirkland notes that Waiting for 'Superman' does a great job focusing on research-proven approaches that enable kids to succeed: great teachers, more instructional time, early childhood education and wrap-around supports. The challenge, then, is to figure out how to fix our system of school governance and finance so that we can get these game-changing components into every one of our children's schools.

This is why I formed the Educational Equity and Excellence Commission, which is now housed in the Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan. The Commission brings together our country's best experts to tackle and ultimately fix the broken system of education finance, so that communities have the freedom and the resources to implement the solutions that work and meet the individual needs of our communities -- and each child.

The title of the film, Waiting for 'Superman', implies that students, parents and communities cannot wait for someone to save them, they must save themselves. As a former teacher and principal, it pains me to hear this. We cannot wait for our broken system of education finance to fix itself, nor can we wait for state and local government to figure out how to effectively implement winning strategies. My Equity Commission is one part of this puzzle but all hands are needed on deck. We must come together now, as a nation, and fix this crisis fast before our children have to wait any longer.