Education Law Center report examines inequity in school funding By Erin McIntyre

Education Law Center report examines inequity in school funding

Dive Brief:

  • A new report from the Education Law Center (ELC)Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card (NRC), reports the majority of current school funding formulas across the U.S. are "unfair and inequitable."
  • Utilizing data from the 2013 Census fiscal survey, the report's 5th annual edition notes "little improvement over the past five years in those states that consistently fail to direct additional funding to districts with high levels of need, as measured by student poverty."
  • The report also found vast differences in educational spending from state to state, even when costs were adjusted to take regional differences into consideration; Alaska and New York spent the most, with Alaska spending $17,331 per pupil, while Utah and Idaho spent the least, with Idaho spending $5,746 per pupil.

Dive Insight:

According to the new report, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Ohio are all taking spending on low-income students seriously, while most other states are not. In those five states, which all have what the report calls "generally high" funding levels, significantly more money is funneled to districts with high levels of student poverty. Another report specifically targeting impoverished students, entitled Is School Funding Fair? America's Most Fiscally Disadvantaged Schoo...was released by the ELC to accompany the Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card (NRC) report.

That report found the 47 most fiscally disadvantaged school districts exist in 16 states; two Pennsylvania districts, Reading and Allentown, are the worst in the nation. They're reported to have "nearly 2.5 times area poverty rates and less than 80% of the average state and local revenue" per pupil. According to newly released federal data, per-pupil spending on K-12 public schools decreased in 2013 for the third year in a row.

Pennsylvania's ongoing district-by-district funding imbalance means that other school systems in the state are faring significantly better. Ashley DeMauro, a school reform activist, recently published an op-ed suggesting the state enact a student-weighted funding formula in order to better distribute funding, citing research showing that weighted student funding formulas give at-risk students 25% higher earnings when they enter the workforce and also result in a 20% drop in the adult poverty rate.

Research shows race contributes to school funding disparities. Looking again at Pennsylvania, data analyst David Mosenkis found poverty alone doesn't account for funding level disparities among districts, and districts with the same number of poor students received different amounts of school dollars depending on the race of those students.

Lawsuits over funding have been filed in Kansas by parent groups to challenge the state's cap on using local property taxes for education. Lawsuits filed over funding in Pennsylvania, too, have focused on alleged violations of the state constitution in “failing to provide adequate education” for students.

School officials invested in finding solutions may want to pay attention to Iowa, where a panel has been mandated to explore “perceived inequities” in an attempt to find answers. There, a proportionally vast transportation spending for large districts, per-pupil cost discrepancies and unequal property tax bases contribute to the funding gaps between districts. It's also important to keep in mind that addressingeducation inequality requires more than funding alone; deeper societal problems like poverty, a lack of diversity and racism need to be taken into account.

Recommended Reading

School Funding Fairness: UNFAIR SCHOOL FUNDING SHORTCHANGES STUDENTS ACROSS THE NATION 
The Washington Post : Spending in nation’s schools falls again, with wide variation acros...

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