Education Law Prof Blog: Study Finds Court Ordered Funding Reforms Produce Five Percent Increase in Graduation Rates

A new study by Chris Candelaria and Ken Shores adds another major finding in the debate over school funding.  In their paper, Court-Ordered Finance Reforms in the Adequacy Era: Heterogeneous Causal Effects and Sensitivity, they find that school funding remedies have a significant impact on graduation rates in high poverty districts.  In those districts, a ten-percent increase in per-pupil funding "causes a 5.06 percentage point increase in graduation rates."  As I calculate it, that means that if a southeastern state spending about $7,000 per-pupil in a high poverty district bumped funding to $7,700, it would likely bump its graduation rate from 65% to 70%.  In a high school with 1200 students, that means it would graduate 210 students each year rather than 195.

This finding comes on top of Kirabo Jackson and his colleagues' recent finding that a twenty percent increase in per pupil funding, if maintained over the course of students' education careers, results in low income students completing .9 more years of education.  This increased learning wipes out two-thirds of the gap in outcomes between low- and middle-income students. 

Not too shabby for a little extra money.  Incredibly impressive when compared to what data tells us about vouchers and the average charter school.  

These studies should give Congress serious pause when they look over Trump's proposed budget, which would leave funding for low-income students flat, save the $1 billion aimed at prompting school choice, charters, and vouchers.

These studies should also give the public heartburn in the 30 states that, in real dollar terms, continue to fund education at a lower level today than they did before the recession.  As I detail here, many states issued cuts of 10 to 20 percent in education funding during the recession and have still yet to fully replace the funds.  The above studies would strongly suggest these states are driving down student achievement and graduation rates; it will just take a few years for the data to bear it out.

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Derek Black

Derek W. Black is a Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law. His areas of expertise include education law and policy, constitutional law, civil rights, evidence, and torts. The focus of his current scholarship is the intersection of constitutional law and public education, particularly as...