For two decades, the state’s goal on paper has been to spend more money on poor students than on their wealthier peers. In fact, that’s become the goal in much of the U.S. as a wave of court decisions have directed states to send more money to poorer school districts so their students have an equal shot at meeting their states’ academic expectations. Still, most states, like Maine, fall short of that goal. Most manage merely to spend roughly equal amounts per student, according to a 2017 analysis of state education spending by the Urban Institute.
The Baltimore school board on Tuesday approved broad changes to the way city schools are funded, allowing money to be allotted based largely on student poverty levels rather than standardized test scores. The new formula will send more money to many schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, enabling principals to pay for psychologists, tutoring services or other tools that could better serve children in need.
“The federal government must take bold action to address inequitable funding in our nation’s public schools.” So begins a list of recommendations released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent, bipartisan agency created by Congress in 1957 to investigate civil rights complaints. Thursday’s report comes after a lengthy investigation into how America’s schools are funded and why so many that serve poor and minority students aren’t getting the resources they say they need.
This is a quick primer of 12 groundbreaking education storylines we’ll be following in the new year, including: teachers unions, high school graduation rates, higher education debates, personalized learning, New Orlean’s next chapter, NYC’s turnaround plans, Illinois’ pension crisis and more.
Some districts are addressing this problem in creative ways. Portland Public Schools in Oregon, for example, redistributes a portion of parent donations through an equity fund. Other districts, like Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, limit how parent donations can be spent. In theory, this puts the responsibility on the district to provide schools with equitable core resources, particularly around staffing. Neither policy appears to significantly affect the level of parent contributions. But they have not always gone over well, with some more affluent communities advocating to keep donations in their own schools.
By Marguerite Roza and Carrie Stewart
Districts of all stripes likely will feel a big impact from a small provision on financial transparency tucked in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Starting in the 2018-19 school year, the provision promises to illuminate school-level financial data that could raise thorny questions for communities across the country around who gets what resources and why. School district leaders might want to prepare now for this reality.
“Because special education services must be funded regardless of whether there is sufficient state or federal funding to cover the costs in their entirety, the dollars needed to cover the shortfall actually come from the general operating budgets of schools,” the report says. And that means a shortfall of $459 for every pupil in the state.
In all, 28.5 percent of America’s schools are rural, and 48 percent of those rural students are from low-income families, the report said. Those are significant numbers, and so are these — we don’t spend nearly as much money on rural schools as we do in other areas. Only 17 percent of education funding goes to rural schools. On average, $6,067 is spent per year on each student in rural schools. Compare that to the national average of $11,841 spent per student each year.
The Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending 2017 shows the myriad ways which school district numbers can be divided, with several categories of per pupil costs, including one labeled “actual per pupil costs.” But trying to compare district to district can be a daunting affair, even if the state does try to eliminate some variables, such as transportation costs, the amount of pension costs for local teachers paid by the district or even judgments against the school district. Click here for an interactive map of district per-pupil spending from NJ Spotlight.
The disparity in school funding is especially noticeable here in eastern North Carolina as most rural counties farther inland fall well below the state average for spending per student. However, coastal areas benefit from a tourism driven economy and high property values, so spending per student increases markedly.