School districts with large numbers of black and Hispanic students need more money to help students succeed but get less. That’s one conclusion of a new study that attempts to calculate how much money it would take to bring all students to the national average in performance.
The study, from the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank, calculates a target funding level for every school district in the country. The formula assumes that more money is needed for places with large numbers of children in poverty, with disabilities and who are learning English. It also takes into account the cost of living, teacher wages and the size of the district to account for economies of scale.
The result is that in some places — wealthy, mostly white suburbs, for instance — the needs are lower and the resources greater. The opposite is true in urban districts with concentrated poverty and mostly students of color.
That’s partly because the needs are greater in poor districts and partly because schools are typically funded by local property taxes, which favors areas with more property wealth.
Nationally, the study estimates that it would cost $150 billion per year to bring all children up to the average test scores. It finds districts with high concentrations of Latino and black students far more likely to be underfunded than majority-white districts.
The funding gap for districts that are majority black or Latino is, on average, more than $5,000 per student, the analysis finds. Districts in the Southeast and Southwest were more likely than others to face a funding gap, it found.
The study is based on a cost model developed by Bruce Baker, a school finance expert in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. He created a model to calculate the relationship between spending and outcomes, as measured by test scores between third and eighth grade, while controlling for wages and cost of living.
The model finds that spending needed in high-poverty districts to reach average scores is twice as high as in affluent districts, Baker said.
For example, the study finds that spending in Baltimore and neighboring Howard County, Md., is about the same at just over $15,000 per student. But it estimates that Baltimore needs $20,224 per student, creating a gap of more than $5,000.
Howard would need just $7,304 to reach average test scores. Its students score above the national average, while Baltimore test scores are below the average.
“We know that spending in education matters,” said Halley Potter, part of the research team for the report. “We’re building on that to say, if spending matters, then how much do we need to spend in each district?”
The spending calculations take into account local, state and federal contributions but do not include capital expenditures, which vary greatly from year to year.
Schools are typically funded by local property taxes, though some states try to make up the difference through state allocations. This analysis suggests that those efforts have fallen short.
Both President Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have school funding plans. Biden would triple Title I spending, which targets high-poverty schools, helping to reduce the gap. Trump wants to make it easier for families to pay for private schools. He has proposed a federal tax credit to encourage donations to scholarship programs, which are similar to some voucher programs.