Comparability of State and Local Expenditures Among Schools Within Districts: A Report From the Study of School-Level Expenditures

This latest from the Department of Education—the
first national analysis of school-level funding—confirms what countless smaller
studies have implied: Schools with higher proportions of poor students often
receive less funding than lower-poverty schools in the same district. In fact,
more than 40 percent of Title I schools had lower per-pupil personnel expenditures
than non-Title I schools in their districts. This finding holds across multiple
measures of expenditures, from teacher salaries to non-personnel resources—and
despite the feds’ efforts at ensuring “comparability.” For those scratching
their heads as to how this could possibly be so—doesn’t Title I’s
“comparability provision” mandate that districts spend about the same for all
schools?—here’s
the skinny
: Schools can prove comparability without figuring in teacher salaries. Per Title I rules, the number of staff must be comparable, not
how much they’re paid. Thing is, low socio-economic status schools often have
newer, cheaper teachers. This is an onion of an issue—with onerous layers of
salary structure, staff placement, and control of funds—and there’s no easy
solution. (Even the policy
brief that ED released
with this report agrees.) But one thing’s for certain:
Uncle
Sam can’t set this right
. States, it’s time to step up.

Ruth Heuer and Stephanie Stullich, Comparability
of State and Local Expenditures Among Schools Within Districts: A Report From
the Study of School-Level Expenditures
(U.S. Department of Education,
2011).

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