Most states don’t provide extra funding for high-poverty schools, according to a new report about how public schools are funded.
The report, issued Monday, also found that only a handful of states that cut money for education during the recession have increased it again during the economic recovery. The analysis was by researchers at Rutgers University and the Education Law Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for equal opportunity in education.
“The nation as a whole, this report shows, is failing to provide the resources our students need,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. It covers the nation’s 49 million K-12 students in public schools.
The report measured states on per-pupil funding; funding distribution, meaning whether a state provides more or less funding to schools in high-poverty areas; how much “effort” states show, meaning how much they spend on education compared with their overall economic situation; and the proportion of children in public schools and the income disparity between those in public and private schools.
It found only New Jersey and Massachusetts did relatively well on all four. Missouri, Alabama and Virginia were marked as poor performers on all four fairness measures.
The report defines fairness in education funding as meeting all student needs and offering additional funding for high-poverty schools to provide smaller class sizes and extra staff to address the needs of low-income students.
The report also found that since teacher salaries and benefits make up the bulk of school budgets, a fair funding system was needed to provide an equitable distribution of high-quality teachers in all districts.
Other key findings:
– Most states aren’t spending as much on education as they did before the recession in 2008. Only Illinois, Wyoming, Connecticut and West Virginia are spending more than they did in 2008.
– The poverty rate of students grew from 16 percent to 21 percent between 2007 and 2012. Poor students are more likely to be isolated in high-poverty school districts.
– Only 15 states spend more for students in high-poverty schools.
Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy research group, said the United States has a tradition of local control over education, “and as long as that’s the case there’s going to be disparities.”
Much of local school funding comes from property taxes, and so affluent districts can afford better schools. High-poverty schools tend to have a greater reliance on state funds, and so state education cuts had a “dramatic effect” on them, he said.
Petrilli said it wasn’t necessarily true that states should increase spending on education. He argued that the education system wastes a lot of money.
“The conservative argument is that school spending should be more efficient,” he said. “The liberal one is that it should be more equitable. In this case, both the conservatives and the liberals are right.”
The report looked at data through 2012, the latest numbers available from the Department of Education. About 90 percent of education funding is controlled by states and local districts.
A companion report by Alan Richard for The Leadership Conference Education Fund, a civil rights group, examined unequal educational opportunities in several states.
“New approaches in education – including setting higher state standards, measuring students’ progress, and requiring schools to improve – haven’t fully addressed issues of equity for all students,” that report said. “Neither has the growth trend of charter schools, online learning, and new approaches to teacher and school leader preparation. Philanthropic support has been massive for higher standards and new approaches to student learning. Nevertheless, the situation remains unfair for too many students.”