Legislators can extend the school day, force new tests on students and link the scores to a teacher’s job, but a new analysis about disparities in school funding raises the uncomfortable question of just how effective any reforms can really be when issues of equity are ignored.
The second edition of the National Report Card, called “Is School Funding Fair?” is a critique of state school funding systems that shows that many public schools don’t get the resources they need to boost student achievement — even if there are plenty of folks who like to say that money doesn’t really matter in education.
The national average funding level is $10,774 per pupil, a $642 increase over the estimate in the 2010 report, with the highest-funded states in the Northeast — along with Wyoming and Alaska — and the lowest-funded states largely in the South and West. And the differences in funding are large: Using nationally adjusted figures, the authors say that a student in Tennessee receives less than 40 percent of the funding of a comparable student in Wyoming.
Adequate funding, of course, is not the definitive answer to public education’s problems, but it is certainly a necessary if not dispositive prerequisite.
The analysis rates the 50 states on funding levels, funding distribution, state fiscal effort and public school coverage with data from 2006 through 2009, in which the effects of the economic recession were just beginning to be felt.
Results, taken from the executive summary, show the following:
* Only 17 states have progressive funding systems that provide greater funding to high-poverty districts. Utah, New Jersey, Ohio and Minnesota remain the four most progressive states.
* Six states have funding systems in which districts with higher poverty rates actually receive less funding than more well-off districts. The most regressive state is Illinois, followed by North Carolina, Alabama, Michigan, Texas and Colorado.
* Six states did relatively well on all four indicators: Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and Vermont.
* Three states were below average on all the indicators: Florida, Missouri and North Carolina. Florida has seen a substantial decline in state effort and funding level.
* Most states needed improvement in at least one area.
* Some states have improved funding distribution by at least one letter grade (Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana and Maryland), while other states have regressed one letter grade (Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Texas).
* Hawaii and Maine each had a particularly large disinvestment in public education, reducing their funding effort by over 20 percent.
* In Louisiana, Delaware and the District of Columbia, about one-fifth of the student population is enrolled in private schools, and those students come from households with incomes as much as two and three times those of public school students.
The new statistical analysis was done by David G. Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in New Jersey; Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education; and Danielle Farrie, research director of the law center.
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