Majority of States Shortchange Low-Income, High-Minority
Although the principle of equal opportunity is frequently
invoked by politicians and other state leaders, an examination
of school funding practices shows that the schools that
educate children with access to the fewest resources
at home also receive less funding from the state. “The
Funding Gap 2005” by the Education Trust details
the funding gap that shortchanges districts serving
the greatest numbers of low-income and minority children.
In 27 out of 49 states, the highest-poverty school
districts receive less funding than the lowest-poverty
districts; furthermore, nationally, per-pupil spending
in the highest-poverty districts falls $907 short of
spending in the lowest-poverty, the
study reports. The states with the worst shortfall
in per-pupil funding are New York, with a $2,280 gap,
and Illinois, with a $2,065 gap.
The findings grow more alarming when accounting for
a 40 percent increase for educating poor students, an
adjustment commonly used by the National Center for
Education Statistics and the U.S. General Accounting
Office. Under these circumstances, the number of states
underfunding high-poverty school districts jumps to
38, and the national average per-pupil spending gap
widens to $1,436.
Schools that serve a large number of minority students
also, on average, receive less funding than other schools.
Nation-wide, per-pupil spending in the districts teaching
the most students of color lags by $614 behind the spending
of districts educating the fewest students of color.
And in 30 out of 49 states, high-minority districts
receive less funding than low-minority districts.
When the same 40 percent adjustment is applied, the
national spending gap between high- and low-minority
schools grows to $964.
While the report cautions that increasing funding alone
is not sufficient, it also praises states that combined
increased funds with wise spending to increase student
achievement. Before the 40-percent adjustment, Alaska,
for example, spends $2,040 more in the highest- than
the lowest-poverty districts, and $4,173 more per-pupil
in its highest-minority districts. The report also highlights
Minnesota, New Jersey, and especially, Massachusetts,
for their funding practices.
In Massachusetts, strategic spending of adequate funding
has resulted in improved student achievement. As a result
of school funding litigation, the Education Reform Act
of 1993 was passed, which increased state funding by
12 percent a year for 10 years. The state partnered
rigorous state standards with targeted spending on tutoring
programs, teacher training, small class sizes, and schools
serving low-income populations. By 2005, NAEP results
showed that Massachusetts’ fourth- and eighth-graders
were outperforming students in every other state in
reading and math.
The report recommends several mechanisms for fixing
the funding gaps: the states should increase the amount
of education spending to reach overall adequacy and
be responsible for a greater share of that funding.
Furthermore, the report states, the increased funding
must be targeted to districts that need it most, and
be distributed fairly within those districts.
The report examined 49 states but excluded Hawaii (which
operates a single state-wide school district) and the
District of Columbia, in addition to vocational, special-education,
and state- and federally-operated schools. The study
used 2002-2003 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and
NCES for this analysis. More details can be found in
Prepared by Katherine Lu, February 21, 2006