New Data Tool Exposes Size of Funding Gaps for Students in Poverty

Two weeks after a report from the Center for American Progress explained how a calculation loophole in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) results in Title 1 schools receiving about $1,200 less per student than comparable schools, a new report confirmed the size of the gap from a different angle. The latest work from The Education Trust also offered an ambitious set of data analysis tools to help states and districts understand the gap. Ed Trust is a non-profit advocacy organization that promotes academic achievement for all students, particularly students of color and low-income.

The report, Funding Gaps 2015, finds that school districts in the United States serving the largest populations of low-income students received about 10 percent less per student in state and local funding than districts with the lowest amount of poverty. In a school with 500 students, that tallies up to $600,000 per year; in larger schools, the gap is more dramatic. The differences are even larger — roughly $2,000 per student — between districts serving the most students of color and those serving the fewest.

Yet, the state and local funding gaps vary greatly from state to state. In Illinois, for example, the districts with the highest poverty get nearly 20 percent less per student than the lowest poverty districts. New York follows with a 10 percent gap; and Pennsylvania has an eight percent gap.

On the other end, high-poverty districts in Ohio and Minnesota receive about 22 percent more funding than their lowest-poverty counterparts.

In 18 states, the districts serving the most students of color receive about $2,000, or 15 percent, less per student than districts serving the fewest. In 14 states districts receive substantially more money. The inequality is "troubling," the report's authors stated. "Research shows that many students of color start school academically behind their peers. If the goal of our education system is to ensure that all students leave high school ready for what’s next — be it college or a meaningful career — we need to provide students who need the most (and the schools that educate them) with more support — not less."

Along with the report, the organization provided an online tool that allows the user to examine data specific to a state.

"While money isn't the only thing that matters for student success, it most certainly matters. Districts with more resources can, for example, use those funds to attract stronger teachers and principals and to offer students more academic support," noted Natasha Ushomirsky, co-author of the report and K-12 senior data and policy analyst for Education Trust. "If this nation is truly to live up to its promise of being the 'land of equal opportunity,' states must take a hard look at their funding formulas and ask themselves, 'Are we giving all students the resources they need to reach their full potential?' The answer is 'no' in far too many states. The good news is that closing funding gaps is possible. There are many states that are paving the way."

To do its analysis, Ed Trust used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, including its data files on public elementary-secondary education finance, as well as small area income and poverty estimates, and the 2012 National Center for Education Statistics' Common Core of Data.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.