Report says unfair school funding shortchanges students across nation
Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card (NRC), released by the Education Law Center (ELC), finds that in most states public school funding remains unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity for school success.
The report shows 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 finds striking differences in levels of funding for K-12 education across the states, even when adjusted for regional variations in cost. Alaska and New York, the states with the highest funding levels, spend more than two and half times what is spent by Utah and Idaho, the states with the lowest funding levels.
The report found that fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Illinois, are regressive, providing less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of low-income students.
ELC’s companion report: Is School Funding Fair? America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts report identifies the nation’s public school districts with higher than average student need and lower than average funding when compared to other districts in their regional labor market. These relative funding levels are crucial because districts in the same labor market must compete for teachers and support staff, the largest share of any district’s budget. Districts are fiscally disadvantaged if they lack funding to offer competitive wages and comparable working conditions relative to other nearby districts and other professions.
The major district-level findings found that:
- The fiscal disadvantages in Reading and Allentown, Pennsylvania, are the nation’s most extreme, with nearly 2.5 times area poverty rates and less than 80 percent of the average state and local revenue per pupil.
- Chicago and Philadelphia continue to top the list of the nation’s most fiscally disadvantaged large urban districts.
- Many of the districts on the most disadvantaged list are in states with regressive funding, Pennsylvania.
“School finance reform is clearly long overdue,” said Bruce Baker, the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education Professor who developed the report’s methodology. “States must develop, and fund, school finance formulas that identify the costs of providing essential education resources to students, accounting for diverse student needs and taking into account local fiscal capacity.”
The two reports underscore the continuing lack of fair, cost-driven methods for financing public education in the states. Most states use outmoded school funding formulas that fail to provide additional funding to address student poverty and other needs. These inadequate formulas also create funding disparities between low wealth, high poverty and high wealth, low poverty districts, even in states with high funding levels, such as Connecticut and New York.
According to David G. Sciarra, ELC’s Executive Director: “States with deeply regressive funding, like Illinois, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, urgently need to overhaul their finance systems to give students a meaningful opportunity to succeed in school. Even states with higher funding levels, such as Connecticut and Wyoming, need to do more to ensure fair funding for each and every student. It’s time to put fair school funding at the top of the nation’s education reform agenda.”