Students Who Need the Most Continue to Get the Least in OutlooK-12 Magazine

by Ricardo Castillo in

Districts serving low-income students and students of color receive far less funding than those serving white and more affluent students. And despite widespread attention to inequitable funding formulas — and courts that have declared them unlawful for shortchanging school districts serving large percentages of low-income students — too many states continue this unfair practice, according to a new state-by-state report and online data tool released by The Education Trust. 

The report, Funding Gaps 2015, finds that U.S. school districts serving the largest populations of low-income students receive roughly $1,200, or 10 percent, less per student in state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts. These gaps add up. For a middle school with 500 students, a gap of $1,200 per student means a shortage of $600,000 per year. For a 1,000-student high school, it means a whopping $1.2 million per year in missing resources. 

"Our data show that the students needing the most supports are given the least," said Natasha Ushomirsky, K-12 senior data and policy analyst and co-author of the report. "As conversations on how to improve achievement for our nation's youth, particularly those who start school academically behind, are hotly debated in statehouses across the nation, closing long-standing funding gaps must be addressed. While money isn't the only thing that matters for student success, it most certainly matters. Districts with more resources can, for example, use those funds to attract stronger teachers and principals and to offer students more academic support." 

Ed Trust analyzed the most up-to-date national data sources available to examine the state of funding equity across the U.S. and within each state. The report looks at revenues from state and local sources only, excluding federal funds since those dollars are ntended — and targeted — to provide supplemental services to traditionally underserved groups. This report focuses on how states allocate the resources that originate from their coffers. The analysis shows great variation among states in terms of their funding patterns. Illinois, with the largest funding gap in the nation, stands out for its unfairness. The highest poverty districts in the state get nearly 20 percent less per student than the lowest poverty districts. Following Illinois with the largest funding gaps are New York (with a 10 percent gap), Pennsylvania (8 percent), Texas (7 percent), Maryland (7 percent) and Michigan (6 percent). •