School districts that serve the highest percentages of low-income students and students of color receive significantly less in local and state funding than districts that serve predominantly white and affluent students, according to a new report from the Education Trust (Ed Trust) and a separate analysis by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). And that funding gap is widening.
In Funding Gaps 2015, Ed Trust finds that the highest poverty school districts nationwide receive about $1,200, or 10 percent, less per student in local and state funds than the lowest poverty districts. Meanwhile, districts serving predominantly students of color receive approximately $2,000, or 15 percent, less per student than districts serving mostly white students. In the report, Ed Trust focuses specifically on local and state funding data from Fiscal Years (FYs) 2010–12, the most recent years available. The analysis excludes federal funding because federal dollars typically provide supplemental and targeted support to specific student groups. The analysis does not compare funding between individual districts, but rather examines funding levels for quartiles of school districts with the highest and lowest poverty levels and the quartiles with the highest and lowest concentrations of students of color.
The researchers also examined funding levels between quartiles of districts within each state and found considerable variation in the levels of funding the poorest and wealthiest districts receive. The highest poverty districts in six states receive between 6 percent and 20 percent less in state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts in their respective states, according to Ed Trust. Seventeen states, meanwhile, provide the highest poverty districts with between 5 percent and 22 percent more in local and state funds.
“Our data show that the students needing the most supports are given the least,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, K–12 senior data and policy analyst and coauthor of the report. “As conversations on how to improve achievement for our nation’s youth, particularly those who start school academically behind, are hotly debated in statehouses across the nation, closing long-standing funding gaps must be addressed. While money isn’t the only thing that matters for student success, it most certainly matters. Districts with more resources can, for example, use those funds to attract stronger teachers and principals and to offer students more academic support.”