Education Law Prof Blog: Most States Shortchange Public School Students Despite Growing Evidence That Money Matters
This from the Education Law Center:
The seventh edition of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card (NRC), released by Education Law Center today, again shows public school funding in most states is unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity to succeed in school.
The nation's continuing failure to sufficiently invest in public schools stands in stark contrast to a growing body of research demonstrating that increased funding leads to better outcomes for students. Studies show that school finance reforms that increase spending in low-income districts result in improved student achievement in those districts and a narrowing of achievement gaps. In fact, these benefits have been shown to last into adulthood in the form of greater educational attainment, higher earnings, and lower rates of adult poverty.
The National Report Card (NRC) uses data from the 2015 Census fiscal survey, the most recent available. The NRC goes beyond raw per-pupil spending calculations by analyzing factors crucial to educational opportunity: whether states provide a sufficient level of school funding and then distribute that funding to address greater student need, as measured by student poverty.
The latest NRC results confirm a disturbing trend: almost no improvement since the end of the Great Recession in those states that do not provide additional funding to districts with high student poverty. There is also no change in the vast disparities in levels of funding for K-12 education across the states, even after adjusting for cost. The states with the highest funding levels (New York and Alaska) spend more than two and a half times what states with the lowest funding levels spend (Arizona and Idaho).
Key findings include:
- Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,719 per pupil in New York, to a low of $6,277 in Idaho.
- The ten states with the lowest funding levels - less than $8,000 per pupil -- include Florida, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Three of those states, Arizona, Idaho, and North Carolina, provide less than $7,000 per pupil.
- Many low funding states invest a low percentage of their economic output to support public education. These "low effort" states include California, Utah, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
- Seventeen states, including Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, and Illinois, have "regressive" school funding. These states provide less funding to their higher poverty school districts, even though students in these districts require more resources to achieve.
- Students in the South and Southwest face a "double disadvantage" because their states provide low funding with no boost in funding for high poverty districts. States with flat or regressive funding include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in the Southwest.
- Only a few states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wyoming, provide high levels of school funding and distribute more funding to their high poverty districts. Notably, New Jersey and Massachusetts are the top performing states on student outcomes.
- States with low or flat school funding have poor results on resource indicators crucial for students to succeed in school. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably low.
"The NRC released today is a sobering reminder of why unfair school funding is the most significant obstacle to improving outcomes for our nation's public school students," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and report co-author. "The stark reality is most states still fund their public schools based on pure politics, not on the cost of delivering quality education to all students."
"School finance reform is long overdue," said Bruce Baker, the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education Professor who developed the report's methodology. "It's long past time for states to develop, and then fund, finance formulas built on the costs of providing essential education resources, accounting for diverse student needs and local fiscal capacity."
Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Dr. Bruce D. Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; Dr. Danielle Farrie, Education Law Center Research Director; David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director.
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