Report: Disinvestment by States Jeopardizes Equal Education Opportunities

Even as a new report from the Education Law Center (ELC) documents wide disparity in state education funding, the ELC and the Leadership Conference Education Fund have released a new report that illustrates how a lack of resources can create "vastly unequal education opportunities," even among students from within the same state.

The report, "Cheating our Future: How Decades of Disinvestment by States Continues To Jeopardize Equal Education Opportunity," specifically examines the education situation for schools in four states: Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Colorado and South Carolina.

Challenges include a lack of planning and resources to help prepare teachers for implementing Common Core and other new state learning standards; a growing gap between needs, especially for students from low-income families, and funding, which has stayed static; and increasing inequities that put students in high poverty communities at a disadvantage because they don't gain access to the same after-school programs, tutoring and summer activities that more affluent students enjoy.

The report stated that 51 percent of American students in public schools came from low-income families in 2013. In four out of five states, students from low-income families make up about 40 percent of public school children. Students eligible for free and reduced lunch were a majority in 21 states.

Among the stories shared in the report are these:

  • In Pennsylvania, budget cuts have hit schools serving special education students particularly hard. Promise Academy at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, where about 40 percent of the 1,180 students have some type of disability, had to increase class sizes up to 40 students, drop second teachers in classrooms and grapple with daily attendance rates that hover at around 81 percent. "A lack of funding means we are not able to provide the services our students so desperately need," said one psychiatric social worker at the high school;
  • According to the report, Mississippi hasn't met its own basic school funding levels required under state law for most of the past decade. The result is "one of the nation's worst-funded education systems";
  • Disgruntled people in South Carolina spent 20 years in court fighting the state's education policies. Now the state is required by law to determine a new school funding plan, which includes offering rural students better opportunities to help them escape "educational ghettos," as the court described some school systems; and
  • In Colorado rural school districts lost a court challenge over school funding. Now lawmakers are hearing about resource challenges in suburban school systems, which may, the report noted, "spur statewide action."

The authors offered several recommendations to address equity gaps in education. Among them, the report encouraged policymakers:

  • To report data on per-student expenditures "publically" to make the information available to parents and others;
  • To use weighted student funding formulas that supply extra funding to areas of concentrated poverty and those districts educating a larger share of English Learners;
  • To do more research on equity in education; and
  • To ramp up education efforts of policymakers and the public so they understand why equity for education funding is important.

"If we are to build a public education system that prepares our children to take advantage of every opportunity that a 21st century economy offers, we must create the public will to push state policymakers to make the necessary investments that will lead to success for each and every child. Otherwise, we're just cheating our future," the report's authors asserted.

About the Author

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

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