The rich get richer

Although it costs about 40 percent more to educate low-income students, says an Education Trust report, the highest-wealth districts get more state and local funding — an average of $868 more per student — than the highest-poverty districts. With the 40 percent differential factored in, the funding gap averages $1,348 per student, Ed Trust says.

In 36 states, the highest-poverty school districts receive less money than the lowest-poverty districts when we account for what school funding experts say is the extra cost of educating low-income students. Nationwide, the disparity exceeds $1,300 per student.

Federal money targeted to the poor isn’t counted in the survey, since federal dollars are supposed to supplement — not replace — state and local funding.

The gap narrowed during the boom, but widened again when tax revenue declined. Affluent suburbs were able to raise property taxes to keep spending high; poorer districts could not.

Number 2 Pencil takes apart an anti-NCLB story which quotes teachers demanding more money and less testing. They also want a “level playing field” with less government interference. Everyone should be well-educated; teachers shouldn’t have to explain why their students are failing.

Eduwonk points out the photo with the story was shot in Upper Arlington, Ohio.

Nice place to live, good public schools, very quiet, and quite literally almost no minorities. There is an important component to the anti-NCLB “revolt” (or adult temper tantrum if you prefer) that gets insufficient attention.

And hold the outraged emails. This is not an accusation of racism, but rather of inattention to, and lack of awareness about, the obscene disparities in our system of public education, which works very well for some kids and miserably for others — and not at random.

NCLB focuses more attention, class time and resources on the kids at the bottom, which often means less for the kids who are doing well.

About Joanne


  1. Mike in Texas says:

    A direct quote from #2pencil

    Yeah, that’ll happen

    I guess you have to get a PhD and be a psychometrician to argue that effectively.

    She also says:
    So, being required to defend why students flunk the test a meaningless issue?

    Yes, it is, when the test itself is meaningless.

  2. is there a balance between communities/parents caring for their kids and a pure “from each according to their ability, to each according to their means” socialism

    mandating equality of outcomes leads to break down at community/society level as people withdraw or at least to stop contributing — just as caustic as leaving large swathes of population undereducated.

  3. is there some reference behind the 40% figure?

    All that the Ed Trust site offers is “But for a more complete picture of funding gaps, our analysis uses a widely used 40-percent adjustment to take into account the added costs of educating low-income students.”

  4. “is there a balance between communities/parents caring for their kids and a pure “from each according to their ability, to each according to their means” socialism”

    Sure, there is, but you won’t find it by tweaking the current system.

    The current system, in effect, imposes an enormous sales tax on public education. If you want to upgrade your education, you not only have to pay more tax money to a better school district, but you also have to move into a more expensive house! If the system were completely privatized, even without vouchers, we’d all be a hell of a lot better off… you’d still have to pay more to get into a better school, but you wouldn’t have to pay several times the difference to buy a new house to go along with it.

  5. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    If someone wants to pay more in taxes to have better local schools why should they not be able to do so? Why would most wage earners be willing to raise their taxes to go to other neighborhoods?

    One solution that would seem to be workable to me would be to determine the cost of a quality basic education. The state would then allocate that amount to each school district in the state. If a district wants to increase their funding they could raise their taxes to do so and they would keep the revenue.

  6. Some Harvard economists recently studied Texas’s fairly stringent “Robin Hood” scheme, which transfers money from rich to poor school districts to reduce the spending gap per student. Unfortunately, they found that it destroys far more wealth than it transfers. (The Texas system was designed after the Supreme Court of Texas found the original system of finance unconstitutional in 1989, as well as two subsequent systems implemented in 1991 and 1993.)

    There are more efficient ways to approach the problem, but they’re rarely done in any state which does attempt funding equalization.

  7. Mike in Texas says:

    The state of Texas just had its entire system for paying for schools declared unconstitutional. The state freely admitted it was only providing 55% of the necessary funds for schools to achieve the goals the state demands. The state considered this adequate.

  8. I would certainly argue that society in general can (should, doesn’t always) reap benefits from spending the extra money to educate those low-income students. We certainly want them to have the opportunity to exceed their poor home environments (no pun intended), as this is part of the American dream. Of course, money alone doesn’t equal quality, as is VERY evident from many of Joanne’s posts.

    I do think we would be better off with a voucher system and free choice, even if we make vouchers somehow income-related (no, I don’t know how this would work or if it is workable in “real life” — I haven’t given it that much thought as I have no kids).

    I do KNOW that we SHOULD be able to provide a better education, more tailored to the varieties of students and situations, for a lower cost than the present public school systems.

    Bureaucracy in its original form (Max Weber) has many benefits over chaos, but it also imposes costs, especially in its current form, which serves to subvert many of the original benefits of bureaucracy (such as, selecting employees based on merit, tying authority and responsibility — in fact these are down right UN-recognizable in most educational bureaucracies!).


  9. John Thacker says:

    Mike in Texas–

    Yes, the state of Texas (and not recently, but ten years ago, as I noted) had its school system formula declared unconstitutional, and then several new formulae declared unconstitutional. But the one that the lawyers made them settle on is horribly, horribly bad, and destructive to all schools. Its results ended up doing a lot more of pushing everybody down than pulling anybody up. There are better ways to ensure that all school districts have relatively equitable funding. Here’s Virginia Postrel’s column in the NYTimes on the subject.

  10. Federal money targeted to the poor isn’t counted in the survey, since federal dollars are supposed to supplement — not replace — state and local funding.

    So the team that put together the survey didn’t include anyone with economics training. There’s substantial empirical evidence that supports what theory has always said — giving money “earmarked” tends to result in the same spending as just giving money. If the feds give a county $100,000 for its schools, the county cuts back its contribution to the school budget and boosts spending elsewhere.

    Not counting the fed supplement means that

    a. It’s much harder to draw any real conclusions from the study.

    b. You probably can’t trust the authors’. If they screwed this up, what else is wrong?

    Yours truly,
    Jeffrey Boulier

  11. John — Actually, the current “Robin Hood” system has just been declared unconstitutional (last week, I think). I believe that’s what MiT meant. I’m pretty sure the state’s going to appeal, but most people I’ve heard don’t hold out much hope for it.

  12. OK, I read the study itself on the metro ride home. It’s very disappointing. In addition to the above rant about not including federal dollars:

    1. They’re not adjusting numbers for inflation.

    2. They are taking into account information on the cost of education. But the data used is from 1993-1994.

    3. In their “Improve State Education Funding Effort” section starting on page 14 they appear to be calling for more funding in select states, and specifically decrying “restrictive, artificial limits on state revenue growth” in Colorado. Colorado comes in at the very last in their ranking of spending to income. It also kicks butt on actual measures of results, e.g. the NAEP tests. West Virginia ranks as number 1 on the ‘effort’ list; it sits near the bottom on NAEP tests.

    Yours truly,
    Jeffrey Boulier

  13. OK, this is weird:

    “The adjusted pupil count (ADJPUPIL) equals:

    V33 + (SPECED01 * 0.9) + (POV01 * (poverty adjustment))”

    Where V33 is the total district enrollment, SPECED01 is the number in special education and POV01 is the number of poor students. ADJPUPIL is designed to represent their use of numbers that special education students cost 90% more than regular students to educate, and poor students cost 40% more.

    So in their analysis, they view poor special ed students as needing funding equivalent to 230% of a “normal” student. But the 40% adjustment that they are using as their poverty factor seems to be meant to take account of the fact that special ed students are disproportionately poor. Although since the 40% comes from “Congress set a standard that states should provide districts with additional funding per low-income student equal to 40% of the average per student amount”, goodness knows how the figure was arrived at.

    It’s possible that the numbers are small enough that the mistake (if it is one) is not very relevant, but it’s another issue that I wish would have been somehow addressed in the report.


  1. Education Trust Redeemed

    While I criticized a methodologically awful Education Trust study here, I’ve got to say that their new tool, College Results Online, is pretty nifty. It allows easy cross comparison of some of the critical numbers, including the six year graduation…