A new U.S. Education Department report shows that more than 40 percent of schools across the country that serve mostly students from low-income families are being shortchanged when it comes to state and local funding.

The findings won’t surprise anybody who follows equity issues in public education funding, as high-poverty schools have long had fewer resources than wealthier ones — even those schools that have received extra federal money through the Title 1 program that is aimed at helping needy students.

The research, using data from the 2008-09 school year, provides new evidence that the students who need more help from public schools get the least. It follows the recent release of Census Bureau data showing that child poverty in the United States had risen to 22 percent, which, together, show the difficulties facing public educators today in high-poverty areas.

According to the Education Department research:

*More than 40 percent of schools that receive Title I money spent less state and local money on teachers and other personnel than schools that don’t receive Title I money at the same grade level in the same district.

After controlling for school grade level, the study found that from 42 percent to 46 percent of Title I schools (depending on school grade level) had per-pupil personnel expenditure levels that were below their district’s average for non-Title I schools at the same grade level, and from 19 percent to 24 percent were more than 10 percent below the non-Title I school average. Conversely, 54 percent to 58 percent of Title I schools had expenditures that were above the non-Title I school average, and 29 percent to 39 percent were more than 10 percent above the non-Title I school average.

*Providing low-income schools with comparable spending would cost as little as 1 to 4 percent of the average district’s total school-level spending.

The data on school-level spending and teacher salary data used by the researchers was submitted by more than 13,000 school districts, as required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. It was the first time such data was made available, and the researchers note in the report some inconsistency in the way the data was reported by different districts but said it was not significant in their overall analysis.

The problem of underfunding in high-poverty schools has been detailed by a number of researchers, including Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, an expert on equity issues. She wrote in this blog post for this blog that evidence shows that teachers who work in poor districts not only earn less than their colleagues in wealthy schools but also pay for many of their students’ books and supplies with their own dollars.

Unfortunately, the issue of how poverty affects student achievement is not high on the list of school reformers who are more interested in standardized tests and teacher quality, and who often say that citing poverty as an impediment is just an excuse.

Until that dynamic changes, don’t expect many of public education’s many problems to improve much.


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