Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card

Bruce Baker, David Sciarra, Danielle Farrie
September 2010

This recent report from Rutgers University and the Education Law Center in New Jersey takes a look at states’ school funding systems and evaluates how adequately they serve the needs of all children, regardless of income or zip code, arguing that “sufficient” and “fairly distributed” funding is a prerequisite for high-quality education. The report looks at previous studies that attempted to analyze state school funding systems, and outlines areas where such methodologies fall short. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) rating of school funding systems failed to consider the differences in education costs across states, and studies by both Education Week and Education Trust left out regional differences in revenue that exists in small rural areas versus large urban districts. This report’s methodology builds on these shortcomings, and defines fair funding as:

A state finance system that ensures equal educational opportunity by providing a sufficient level of funding distributed within the state to account for additional needs generated by student poverty.

The authors measure the funding “fairness” of each state according to four measurements:

  • Funding level: The overall level of state and local funding provided to school districts.
  • Funding Distribution: The distribution of funding across local districts. This measure also tells whether states are providing more or less funding to high-poverty districts.
  • Effort: A state’s spending on education compared to its state per-capita GDP.
  • Coverage: The proportion of school-age children attending public schools compared to those attending private schools.

The report evaluated states by two methods. For measures that states have direct control over such as funding distribution and effort they were given a letter grade (A-F). For funding level and coverage the states are ranked against one another rather than graded because factors outside of their control such as state policy impact these measurements.

When it comes to the Buckeye State, the ratings are mixed. Ohio is considered a progressively funded state, meaning that poor districts get more money than wealthy districts. Ohio spent $11,821 on students in schools with high poverty, compared to just $9,054 on students in schools with no poverty. Ohio also has a higher than average per pupil funding amount. Ohio’s average per pupil revenue is $10,933, while the national average is $10,469. Check out how Ohio and various other states rank in terms of school funding here.

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