Rebecca Sibilia’s New Organization to Offer Funding to Improve School Finance Data

In the realm of education policy organizations, EdBuild stood out as a unique entity. A pioneering non-profit dedicated to promoting equity in education funding, it delved deep into the details, even enlisting its own geographer to analyze subtle discrepancies in funding between districts. It played a key role in raising awareness nationwide about inequities at the district level.

Founder Rebecca Sibilia now acknowledges that EdBuild fell short in its other mission of collaborating with state legislators to address the issue. She admits, “We did this very, very poorly.” In 2020, after just five years, the organization ceased operations.

Reflecting on the decision, Sibilia, who had prior experience in school finance with Washington, D.C., schools and the education reform group StudentsFirst, recognized the need for better tools to drive progress on the issue, despite successfully drawing attention to the funding problem.

The closure of EdBuild coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threw school budgets into turmoil across the nation. The exigency for transparent, actionable funding information is now more pressing than ever. Sibilia asserted, “We have realized how much the data sucks,” highlighting the imperative for accurate funding data to guide policymakers in making informed decisions.

Fast forward four years, Sibilia is unveiling her latest venture, EdFund, launching today. In a recent discussion with The 74’s Greg Toppo, she emphasized the importance of enhanced funding research and dissemination, along with a novel approach to collaboration involving not only legislators and policymakers but also support for researchers, journalists, and others to interpret the data. EdFund will soon release its first request for proposals.

Anticipating a high volume of proposals exceeding available funding, the new organization currently relies on three primary backers—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation—contributing approximately $1.5 million annually.

“This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.”

Rebecca Sibilia reflected on EdBuild’s legacy, emphasizing the success in raising national awareness about funding disparities but acknowledging the organization’s failure to enact substantial change through legislative engagement. Moving forward, Sibilia underscored the critical need for policy-relevant research to address practical funding questions and establish equitable funding systems.

“For 60 years, we’ve been arguing about whether or not money matters, and it is the dumbest debate of all dumb questions that exist in the world.”

The disconnect between research and policy has hindered informed decision-making, leading policymakers to make uninformed funding choices. Sibilia emphasized the necessity of bridging the gap between research and policy to provide evidence-backed solutions for effective school funding.

Targeting the research community, advocates, and journalists, EdFund aims to curate a policy-focused research agenda, commission relevant studies, and effectively communicate research findings to inform policy discussions. By fostering direct connections between researchers, policymakers, and advocates, EdFund seeks to drive evidence-based decision-making in the education sector.

“The states where all of the school finance reform mojo is happening are in the South!”

Acknowledging the momentum in school finance reform in southern states, Sibilia emphasized the need for student-based funding formulas to reflect diverse student needs and advocate for equitable educational resources. She highlighted the importance of shifting funding priorities towards supporting student achievement through strategic financial allocations.

“It doesn’t sound like you’re abandoning the border fight. Taking a new approach maybe?”

Despite shifting focus from legislative changes, Sibilia stressed the persistent need for equitable school funding borders and highlighted potential avenues, including litigation, to address funding disparities. By advocating for student-focused funding models and influencing policy decisions, Sibilia aims to drive systemic changes to support marginalized student populations.

“I couldn’t let you go without asking you about this tweet from you at South by Southwest.”

In her dialogue with The 74, Sibilia referenced a tweet about journalists proposing a more effective school funding model than existing state frameworks. She elucidated the complexity of school funding formulas, emphasizing the need for simplified, conceptually clear policies to facilitate informed decision-making. Sibilia underscored the crucial role of research in conveying funding concepts and enhancing policy understanding in the education landscape.

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