Spotlighting School Funding Inequities Without Getting Lost in the Data

One year ago, as COVID-19 began to disrupt education across the U.S., some schools were able to quickly pivot to remote learning, while others struggled to get enough devices and Wi-Fi hotspots to their students. More recently, some schools had the facilities and space to follow social distancing and ventilation guidelines, while other schools, already crowded and aging before the pandemic, were unable to make such accommodations.

These inequities often come down to money – there are vast differences in school funding from state to state and district to district. The Education Law Center (ELC), a national research and advocacy organization, has worked for years to highlight these disparities and improve school funding equity for all students.

The Hatcher Group was proud to partner with ELC recently to support the release of a trio of school finance reports. Together, the reports shed critical light on the dramatic differences in school funding across the country and the impact of state disinvestment in education after the 2008 Great Recession. For example, Arizona provides just $9,046 per pupil, while Vermont provides nearly $22,000.

Hatcher secured high-profile earned media coverage, designed an engaging infographic based on key findings, and developed a social media strategy to extend the life of the reports beyond the day of release. The result? The reports made a splash despite a busy and fast-changing news cycle.

ELC’s first report, $600 Billion Lost, details the impact of state disinvestment in public education in the decade following the Great Recession. While the report was full of compelling data, our challenge was to bring the figures to life and present it in a way that non-experts could understand. Hatcher’s talented design team produced an infographic that clearly conveyed key data points, while connecting them back to real-world implications for students and teachers. Social media posts and graphics promoting the report also helped generate buzz as well as sharing on Twitter among high-profile education organizations.The second report, Making the Grade 2020, is ELC’s latest iteration of its annual report on school finance equity across all 50 states and D.C. Hatcher conducted targeted media outreach to national outlets as well as media in priority states, earning coverage in U.S. News & World Report, The 74, K-12 Dive, and local outlets.

Rounding out the trio of reports, ELC’s From Courthouse to Statehouse, provides a roadmap for school funding reform in states. Similar to their work on Making the Grade 2020, Hatcher’s creative team of designers transformed the report from a standard Word document into an eye-catching, fully-designed report.

The key to success in all of this work? Finding ways to translate the data into a clear and compelling story. School finance data can be dense, wonky, and often confusing. By taking a step back, identifying the real-world implications for students and teachers, and communicating key messages in a clear and engaging way, we were able to help ELC earn national and local media recognition, while also sparking conversation on social media about school funding inequities.

Shining a spotlight on educational inequities to give students, especially the most vulnerable, a meaningful opportunity for success is among the most important and rewarding work we do at Hatcher. We are proud to partner with organizations like ELC, whose work is critical to building a fairer, more equitable education system.

By David Loewenberg, Senior Associate & Writer