Last week, Education Trust published "Funding Gaps 2015," a report that looks specifically at how states and cities are contributing to education budgets. While talking heads typically zero in on federal funding of schools — like how Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind impact budgets — the reality is that the bulk of a district's cash flow comes from more local sources. In fact, according to Education Trust, an estimated 87% of a district's funding comes from states and cities. With many districts currently suffering from tightened budgets, the report calls out the states failing to properly fund their schools, highlighting those that have particularly held out on districts with large low-income populations.
For a closer look at the report's findings, here are four key takeaways to note.
High-poverty districts average 10% less in state and local funding
According to the report, on average low-income districts receive $1,200 less per student than their high-income counterparts. This trend is particularly disturbing when considering the fact that low-income districts most likely need the funds a lot more. Compounding the issue, Education Trust found that school districts serving students of color receive an estimated 15% less ($2,000) in per pupil funding than districts serving predominantly white populations. These two details together provide a bleak picture for low-income, minority students.
Illinois, which includes the cash-starved Chicago Public Schools, was called out as a state with a particularly egregious funding setup: high-poverty districts there received an average of 20% less than their more affluent counterparts. Education Trust explains how funding gaps like thiscan add up. For example, a district with 1,000 high school students and a $1,200 per pupil funding gap means that the school's overall shortage can add up to $1.2 million in missing resources — a staggering number.
17 states provide high-poverty districts more funding
Some states do appear to be looking after their most vulnerable students. According to the report, 17 states give their high-poverty districts more funding. Those states include Ohio, Minnesota, South Dakota, Delaware, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, New Jersey, Georgia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, Oregon and West Virginia. The first three were called out for being some of the most progressive states, with disadvantaged districts getting an average of 20% more funding than their low-poverty counterparts.
Distribution decisions can have a profound impact on schools.
While local funds are typically decided by property taxes — leading to great discrepancies — state education funds have more leeway, with legislators getting a say in the funding model. As Education Trust explains, the various models can drastically impact the resources students have at their disposal.
For example, a state can choose to divvy up funds through a per-pupil funding model, where every school gets funds based on how many students they enroll and each student is worth a certain amount of funds that stays the same regardless of neighborhood. Another model, takes into account the school's neighborhood and how many students come from low-income backgrounds. This second model typically alleviates some of the discrepancies that come up through local, property-tax reliant funding. Education Trust found that most states do provide more to their high-poverty districts, however, how much more can vary greatly. Education Trust shows this discrepancy by zeroing in on Illinois and Connecticut, where state funding makes up just under 40% of non-federal funding. In the Connecticut scenario, high-poverty districts get about three times more in state funding. This model helps alleviate gaps created by things like lower property taxes, helping the state's low-income districts receive more overall funds.
Spending less on low-income districts breaks equal education commitment
Education Trust brings up the valid point that the funding formulas found in many states could actually be considered unconstitutional. It's not surprising in that case to realize that many states have found themselves in the midst of lawsuits regarding their funding formulas. For example, the state of Pennsylvania and former governor Tom Corbett are currently defendants in a lawsuit filed by a number of parents and the state's NAACP chapter. The case alleges that inadequate funding makes it near impossible for district schools — specifically in rural and urban neighborhoods — to provide adequate resources for students, blaming the state's funding formula for the inadequacies.