A report released recently by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), "A
New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and the Nation," finds that low-income children are a majority of students in 17 states, primarily in the South and West, and a near majority of all students across the nation (48 percent). A separate report, "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," analyzes the school funding systems in these 17 states and finds serious cause for concern.
Many low-income students are not given the opportunity to achieve academically
due to inadequate funding of essential resources in their schools. The SEF
report warns: "Without fundamental improvements in how the South and the Nation
educate low income students, the trends that this report documents will ricochet
across all aspects of American society for generations to come."
The report finds:
- Over the last ten years, the number of low-income students has grown at a rate three to four times greater than the growth of per pupil expenditures in three of the four regions of the country.
- During the last decade, while achievement scores have increased for both low-income and higher income students, huge gaps still remain between these two student groups, particularly in regions where less money is spent on public education.
- The achievement gap between low-income and higher income students is as large or larger in private schools as it is in public schools.
- Within the next few years, it is likely that low-income students will become
a majority of all public school children in the United States.
The report concludes that this trend raises the prospect of "entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots."
Is School Funding Fair?
How well do the 17 states where over 50 percent of the student population is low-income fund their schools? The National Report Card, the best analysis of school funding available, rates
all 50 states on four separate and interrelated "fairness indicators," including
funding distribution, funding level, and state fiscal effort. The Report Card is
built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems of
school finance are the essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality
Fair school funding requires that districts with more low-income students
receive greater resources in order to provide their students with the opportunity
to learn. The National Report Card identifies whether states have "progressive", "regressive",
or "flat" school funding systems and assigns grades from A to F. A progressive
system delivers a higher level of resources to higher poverty districts.
Some of the 17 majority low-income states are doing well at progressively
distributing state and local resources to school districts. Louisiana, Georgia,
Tennessee, Kentucky, and California receive A's, while Arkansas, New Mexico
and Florida receive B's.
On the other hand, some states are regressive, meaning that high poverty districts
receive fewer resources than low poverty districts. In Alabama, Texas, North
Carolina and Nevada the funding systems are regressive. In North Carolina and
Texas, the two worst states, high poverty districts have only 70 percent of
the funding in low poverty districts. In other words, despite their students'
higher needs, they have only 70 cents to spend for every dollar that wealthier
The Report Card ranks states using per pupil funding data that is adjusted
to take into account the different contexts within each state -- for example,
poverty levels, labor market conditions, and district configuration. All states
but one (West Virginia) of the 17 majority low-income states are in the bottom
half when ranked by funding levels. Tennessee, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, the
lowest funded among the 17, provide fewer than $7,500 dollars per pupil compared
to a national average of about $10,400.
Many of these states are also low-effort states, as measured by the amount
of the state's economic productivity dedicated to funding schools. The Report
Card grades states from A to F on this measure. Florida, Nevada, California,
North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Oregon all receive F's. A few of
the majority low-income states have relatively high effort levels, namely West
Virginia, Arkansas, and South Carolina. However, these three states have among
the lowest levels of economic capacity in the nation, so even a high effort
produces relatively low overall funding levels.
While the U.S. continues to lead the developed world with the highest student
poverty rates, the National Report Card shows that many states have not adopted
school funding systems that enable schools to provide high quality educational
opportunities to millions of low-income children.
The SEF's recent release updates a 2007 report, A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South's Public Schools, which documented the fact that low-income students had become a majority in the South's public schools for the first time in more than four decades.
The third edition of "Is School Funding Fair: A National Report Card" will be available on the report's website in December 2013.