The latest edition of “Is School Funding Fair, A National Report Card, ” published annually since 2008, was released last week by the Education Law Center. Based on census data from 2014, this report goes beyond raw per-pupil calculations to evaluate whether states are making sufficient investments in public education and distributing funding relative to need, as measured by student poverty. To capture the variation across states, the NRC uses four interrelated “fairness measures” – Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort and Coverage – that allow for state-by-state comparisons while controlling for regional cost differences.
Key findings include:
Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,165 per pupil in New York, to a low of $5,838 in Idaho.
Many states with low funding levels, such as California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, are also low “effort” states, that is, they invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems.
Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, and Illinois, have “regressive” school funding. These states provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of need as measured by student poverty.
Students in certain regions of the country face a “double disadvantage” because their states have low funding levels and do not increase funding for concentrated student poverty. These “flat” funding states include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest.
Only a handful of states – Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey – have “progressive” school funding. These states have sufficiently high funding levels and significantly boost funding in their high poverty districts.
States with unfair school funding perform poorly on key indicators of resources essential for educational opportunity. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably high.