What role does school funding play in school improvement?
According to a recent report published by the Education
Law Center, “sufficient school funding, fairly distributed to
districts to address concentrated poverty, is an essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education through
the states” (p. 1).
The report evaluated the 50 U.S. states on four fairness
measures: per-pupil funding levels; funding distribution
(whether a state provides more or less funding to schools on
the basis of their poverty concentration); effort (differences
in state spending relative to the state’s fiscal capacity); and
coverage (the proportion of children in public schools and the
income ratio of private and public school families).
Here are some findings:
n Six states are positioned relatively well on all four fairness
measures: Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Kansas,
and New Mexico.
n The national average funding level (adjusted to account
for such issues as student poverty and regional wage variation) is $10,774 per pupil.
n The highest-funded states are, for the most part, in the
Northeast. The lowest-funded states predominate in the South
n There’s enormous disparity between the highest- and
lowest-funded states. For example, a student in Tennessee
receives less than 40 percent of the funding of a comparable
student in Wyoming.
n Only 17 states have progressive funding systems,
meaning they provide greater funding to high-poverty
districts. The four states with the most progressive funding
systems are Utah, New Jersey, Ohio, and Minnesota. Six states
have regressive funding systems, meaning that districts with
higher poverty rates receive less funding than more affluent
n Many states do poorly on two of the four measures: state
effort and funding distribution.
The report, Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card,
written by Bruce Baker, David Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie, is
available at www.schoolfundingfairness.org/National_Report_
Numbers of Note
The percentage of Americans who
will spend at least one year below
the poverty line at some point
between ages 20 and 75.
Source: Hacker, J. S. (2006). The great risk
shift: The new insecurity and the decline of the
American dream. New York: Oxford University Press.
The percentage of increase in the
poverty rate for U.S. children under
the age of 6 between 2000 and 2011.
Source: Children’s Defense Fund. (2012).
Child poverty in America: 2011. Washington,
DC: Author. Retrieved from www.childrens