Study shows more funding needed in low-income districts

Study shows more funding needed in low-income districts

(District of Columbia) Most states are not spending enough to support students attending schools in higher-poverty districts, according to a study released last week.

Researchers at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and the American Federation of Teachers found that in higher poverty districts in many states do not receive more funds than districts in more affluent neighborhoods. In fact, they found some states where schools with higher rates of low-income youth received less in state funding than schools in wealthier areas even after controlling for factors that affect costs.

“How states fund their schools is not an accident, it is a deliberate policy choice,” Bruce Baker, Rutgers University professor and co-author of the report, said in a statement. “When states fail to provide schools serving high-needs students with the resources they need to improve, that is a choice. Yes, money must be spent wisely, but districts can’t do that when there isn’t enough money to spend.”

State Legislatures throughout the country have struggled to bring overall education spending back up to pre-recession levels and some progress has been made.

In 2018, The Washington State Supreme Court granted the closure of a decade-long school-finance case after lawmakers agreed to allocate an additional $776 million into education funding for teacher and other school staff salaries.

And in states where teachers went on strike in last year, policymakers have increased school funding.

Meanwhile, former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into a law a new funding formula that established an “adequacy target” for each school district that takes into account total enrollment, as well as the percentage of students that are low-income, with disabilities and English-leaners.

Still, just last month, the Illinois State Board of Education reported that the 2019 appropriation for K-12 schools falls close to $7.4 billion short of what is needed.

The Rutgers University report used three indicators to evaluate state school finance systems:

  • Adequacy, or whether states provide sufficient resources to districts, relative to other states or to common outcome goals such as increasing test scores;
  • Progressivity, to determine whether states allocate more resources to districts serving larger proportions of disadvantaged children; and
  • Effort, or how much of a state’s total resources or capacity are spent directly on K-12 education.

Researchers said effort is measured in terms of spending as a proportion of capacity–meaning states with large economies and relatively high-income residents have more resources to tap in order to fund education, such as through taxation.

Mississippi exhibits rather strong effort, they wrote, but “its relatively small capacity means that students in that state will be under-resourced vis-à-vis states that put forth similar effort but have greater capacity.”

High-capacity states including California and Massachusetts, for instance, were determined to be relatively low-effort states, but researchers noted their low effort is less detrimental for education resources in than it would in lower capacity states.

Meanwhile, nearly all states were found to spend far less than what authors of the study estimated would be required for students in their higher-poverty districts to achieve average scores on national standardized tests, which researchers used as a benchmark to assess states’ funding levels.

The study also showed that, on average, states are spending enough for their lower-poverty districts to achieve national average test scores, and often achieving that result. Researchers found that the gap between required and actual spending increases rapidly as poverty levels increase, however.

Some states–including Alaska, Wyoming and Utah–have attempted to bridge the gap in need. In those states, revenue in the highest-poverty districts is more than 50 percent higher than it is in the lowest-poverty districts.

Yet in some states, higher-poverty districts actually receive significantly less revenue than affluent districts. For example, in Nevada, researchers found that revenue in the highest-poverty districts is less than half of that in the state’s lowest-poverty districts. And Illinois’ highest-poverty districts receive revenue that is 69 percent of what it is in the lowest-poverty districts.

According to authors of the report, such findings are a cause for serious concern, as districts serving higher-needs students require more resources to provide the same quality of education as districts serving lower-needs students.

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