The Funding Gap
January 30, 2008
This short (11-page) study by the Education Trust has drawn some media attention because it reaches the kind of conclusion that the press loves: schools serving poor and minority kids are getting gypped when it comes to state and local funding. (See "Neediest Schools Receive Less Money, Report Finds," by Diana Jean Schemo, The New York Times, August 9, 2002, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/09/education/09FUND.html.) The facts, of course, are somewhat more complicated than the headlines. In many jurisdictions, funding formulae-especially those that distribute state dollars-do help compensate for the underlying problem, namely that school systems with lots of poor kids are often in poor communities without much wealth to spend on education. That was the original point of "state equalization" (or "foundation") funding, and often it works. What's distressing to find in these Education Trust data are a number of places-most vividly New York-where the state dollars seem to exacerbate the problem of unequal spending. There are many reasons for this, including the political idiosyncrasies of some state-local relationships. (The Illinois data, for example, are dominated by Chicago's relationship to the state, as Pennsylvania's are by Philadelphia and New York's by New York City.) The big question, though, barely addressed in this report, is whether redirecting more resources into heavily minority and low-income school systems will produce more learning in their classrooms. Of course that depends on how the money gets spent. Across-the-board raises for current staff members aren't likely to yield much by way of improved achievement. Though there are surely cash-starved urban (and rural) school systems, there are others-Newark comes to mind, with its $15,000 per pupil budget-where lots of money is not producing decent educational results for lots of poor and minority youngsters. You can download your very own PDF copy by surfing to http://www.edtrust.org/main/documents/investment.pdf.