Two reports examining the relationship between school districts’ financial standing and educational inequities were released this week by the Center on American Progress. The first is the updated 2014 version of Ulrich Boser’s earlier report, “Return on Educational Investment: 2011. Like its predecessor, the 2014 report uses the same metrics: 2010-2011 school year spending data (being the most recent and available data set) and 2010-2011 state reading and math assessments at both the primary and secondary school levels to calculate a “rate of return” on investments in education.
The spending data indicates the amount of money being spent by each school district, and the assessments measure student achievement in each school district. Boser acknowledges that relying on reading and math test scores is a narrow vision of achievement, but he states that it is the best available data to quantify academic success. Combining this data, the analysis calculates a return on investment that shows how much academic achievement is realized for each dollar spent. The methodology also adjusts the figures to take into account factors beyond a district’s control such as the socio-economic standing or language ability of students and their families.
Boser’s findings indicate that many states have failed to create transparent and effective budget practices and to make fiscal equity a priority. As a result, there are tremendous disparities across school districts. The data also highlights that many schools with higher needs are not receiving the resources necessary to support their students. On the other hand, some more affluent school systems may not rate high on efficiency because they might be spending significant amounts on programs outside of the academic arena like athletics.
The second report the Center released was an analysis of “America’s Most Financially Disadvantaged School Districts and How They Got That Way” by Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker. Baker’s report complements and further illuminates the inequalities discussed in the Boser report. Baker sets forth five major causes of school funding disparities and proposes policy recommendations for resolving them. The factors causing inequity that he cites are inequalities in local property wealth, poor education finance formulas, local politics, racially segregated communities, and demographic shifts. In order to overcome these funding inequities, Baker proposes desegregating communities, increasing state authority to ensure that local school district taxing and fiscal policies do not undermine state financial policy objectives, and a more rigorous approach to constructing state funding formulas.