Press Release

Funding gap states shortchange poor, minority students of education dollars

Publication date: Oct 6, 2004

(Washington, DC) –- Most states continue to shortchange poor and minority students by failing to fairly fund the schools they attend, according to a new report released today by The Education Trust.

In 36 states, the highest-poverty school districts receive less money than the lowest-poverty districts when we account for what school funding experts say is the extra cost of educating low-income students. Nationwide, the disparity exceeds $1,300 per student.

“”While some states rightfully have focused their attention on equitably funding their school districts, others have done little to close their funding gaps, and some gaps have grown even larger,”” said Kevin Carey, senior policy analyst and author of the report. “”Once again, we see that the students who need the most get the least.””

The Education Trust report also points out that money alone won’t close gaps in student achievement.

“”Closing these gaps demands that state policymakers give poor and minority students more of everything that we know students need: challenging curriculum, qualified teachers, high expectations, regular assessments to ensure all children are learning –- and yes, money”,” said Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust.

“”We have set ambitious goals, and we need to support those goals by making sure that the schools serving poor and minority students get their fare share,”” she said. “But we can’’t lose sight of the fact that many educators are moving ahead and working to raise achievement for all students with the resources they have.”

“”They are proving every day that all children can be taught to high levels.””

The study examines K-12 funding provided by state and local governments. Those jurisdictions, rather than the federal government, control more than 90 percent of the money that schools receive.

States shortchange poor and minority students

Looking at basic revenue numbers, we find that, in 25 of 49 states studied, the highest-poverty school districts get fewer resources than the lowest-poverty districts. The report examines revenue from 2001-02, the most recent school year for which data is available. (See Table 1.)

Even more states –- 31 in all -– have a gap for high-minority districts.

But for a more complete picture of funding gaps, our analysis uses a widely used 40-percent adjustment to take into account the added costs of educating low-income students.

When the funding gap is examined this way, we find that high-poverty school districts in 36 states receive fewer dollars than low-poverty districts. Nationally, the funding gap between the top 25 percent of low-poverty districts and the bottom 25 percent of high-poverty districts stands at $1,348 per student. (Note: The numbers in this paragraph and all the remaining numbers in this news release reflect the 40-percent adjustment.)

Illinois and New York have the largest funding gaps in the nation for low-income students, more than $2,000 per student. Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas are among the states with funding gaps greater than $900 per student. (See Table 2.)

The picture also is grim for districts that serve minority children.

In 35 states, districts enrolling the highest proportions of minority students receive fewer state and local education dollars per student than districts enrolling the lowest proportion of minority students. And 14 of those states have funding gaps of more than $900 per student. (See Table 3.)

“”Adequately funding public schools is not a choice,”” Carey said. “”It is the responsibility of policymakers to ensure that we don’’t systematically diminish the educational opportunities of our most vulnerable students. Every American who truly values education should be angered.””

Some states are making progress. The funding gap for districts serving low-income students shrank between 1997 and 2002 in 27 states. New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio are among the states that improved funding for high-poverty districts by at least $500 per student between 1997 and 2002.

Unfortunately, the gap grew larger in 22 states.

And the analysis reveals another disturbing pattern. While some school districts serving low-income students made modest financial gains between 1997 and 2001, as soon as the economic recession took hold, those districts lost ground.

These funding gaps add up for the districts educating low-income and minority children. In New York, for example, the funding gap between high- and low-poverty school districts amounts to $2,615 per student.  This translates into a shortfall of $1 million for a high-poverty elementary school serving 400 children — money that could have been used to better train teachers, buy textbooks or equip science labs.

Produced annually since 2001, the funding gap report also examines for — the first time — each state’’s “”education funding effort,”” the ratio of state and local per-pupil education to state per-capita income. And it finds that states like California, Nevada and Florida devote a relatively small share of their resources to education.

States can close funding gap

Here are some common-sense approaches states can use to close these funding gaps:

  • Devote a greater share of state funding to education.
  • Reduce reliance on local property taxes to fund education and
  • increasing support for state sources.
  • Target extra funds specifically to help low-income children.
  • Promote fair budget practices that give each school within a district the same amount of money per student, adjusted to meet the needs of poor students.

“”These funding gaps are deplorable, but they are not inevitable,”” Haycock said. “”We must do everything in our power to ensure that all children have what is needed to prepare them for the future.””

“”Now is not the time to limit ourselves — in expectations, effort or resources,”” she said.

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