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February 7, 2014

The 3rd Edition of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card details how school funding in most of the 50 states remains remarkably unfair. States currently defending their funding systems in court, such as Texas, New York and Florida, show serious weaknesses in the Report Card's analysis.

Providing school funding---both at a sufficient level and with additional funds to meet needs generated by poverty---is crucial for all students to have the opportunity to learn and succeed. The Report Card examines the commitment to equal educational opportunity of all 50 states and the District of Columbia by using four separate, but interrelated, funding "fairness indicators"---funding level, distribution, state fiscal effort, and coverage.

The Report's 3rd Edition finds:

  • School funding in 2011 was largely stagnant or declining in many states. About half of the states cut funding from 2010 levels, and in 14 states per-pupil spending in 2011 was below 2007 levels, even without adjusting for inflation.
  • Reversing a positive trend, the number of states classified as "progressive"---that is, they provide more funds as district poverty increases---dropped between 2010 and 2011. Several of the fourteen "progressive" states reduced funding to high poverty districts. New Jersey, for example, lowered the funding boost for poor districts from 42% in 2009 to a mere 7% in 2011. In Utah, the funding boost was cut in half from 59% in 2009 to 24% in 2011.
  • Many states reduced their investment in K-12 public education in 2011. All but three states lowered their fiscal effort on education between 2010 and 2011, when they faced the fiscal cliff created by the loss of federal stimulus funds.

The 3rd Edition also explores the relationship between school funding and three essential resources: early childhood education, pupil-to-teacher ratios, and teacher wage competitiveness. The report shows that states with fair school funding, such as Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland, tend to provide more support for early childhood education. Moreover, fair funding states, such as Wyoming, are better able to provide competitive compensation for teachers, while others, such as Minnesota, maintain student to staff ratios that are adequate to meet the needs of students. States that are particularly weak on these measures include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada.

The Report Card also demonstrates the level of unfair funding in many states:

  • The disparities in funding among states are vast, with average per pupil funding ranging from $6,753 in Idaho, to $17,397 in Wyoming. In six states (Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, Idaho), average funding levels are below $8,000 per pupil.
  • The majority of states have flat or regressive funding distribution patterns that ignore the need for additional funding in high poverty settings. Even among "progressive" states, only eight provide more than a 10% boost to high poverty districts. In the five most regressive states (North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada), the poorest districts receive at least 20% less funding than higher wealth districts.
  • States making the strongest effort to fund public education devote more than 4.5% of their economic productivity to schools (Vermont, New Jersey, New York), while the lowest effort states (Oregon, South Dakota, Delaware) allocate 2.5% or less.
  • The extent to which school-aged children do not attend public schools raises a red flag in a number of states. Household incomes of non-public school families in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and the District of Columbia are as much as two to three times higher than incomes of public school families. These data point to a potential lack of political and community support for fairly financing public education in these states.

"This year's National Report Card confirms that states across the country are failing to adequately and equitably invest in children," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington, D.C. "A tough economy is no excuse to deny an adequate education to students, regardless of their race, disability status, income, or zip code. This report also offers proof that states can do better when they prioritize students over politics."

The National Report Card also shows how the Great Recession triggered dramatic reductions in revenues from local property tax and state sales and income taxes, the prime sources of school funding in the U.S. The federal government provided substantial stimulus funds on a temporary basis. When the stimulus ended, however, states faced a crucial test: either restore revenue or allow cuts to education funding and programs. This report shows many of the states failed this test, sacrificing adequate and fair school funding after the foreseeable loss of federal stimulus dollars.

"As this Report Card shows, most states did not step up when the federal stimulus dried up. Instead, they cut education funding, eroding fairness in some states and further retreating from that goal in others," said David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director and NRC co-author. "These latest results show school finance in most states is decidedly unfair, a condition which deprives equal educational opportunity to millions of public school children across the nation."

Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC); and Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC. Please visit the website to download the report and to explore the findings with interactive data tools.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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