School funding: Quietly unequal

The rich districts get richer in Illinois, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and North Carolina, according to a new Center for American Progress report, The Stealth Inequities of School Funding. In these states, schools in higher-poverty districts receive less state and local dollars than low-poverty districts, the report finds.

On the state level, there’s no relationship between education spending and results, according to a State Budget Solutions study, which analyzed state spending from 2009 to 2011. Spending more didn’t raise graduation rates or ACT scores. Spending less didn’t lower performance.

Massachusetts, which has the strongest academic performance in almost every subject area and the highest ACT scores, spend less of its state budget on education than 45 other states, SBS reported.

About Joanne


  1. No matter how much money is spent, if kids, parents and communities do not make academic success a priority, many (if not most) kids will not succeed. Failing to offer high-quality curriculum in ES means that kids will not master the fundamentals and will struggle thereafter. Many, whose real problem may be “not taught properly” will be labeled learning disabled. Failing to remove disruptive kids from classrooms also reduces the chance of success for many. Failing to offer good voc ed alternatives to college-prep-for-all will reduce the chances of success for non-academically-inclined kids. Of course, the really big elephant in the room is spec ed – particularly those at the very leftmost end of the curve who receive enormously disproportionate funding and who will never be academically successful because of the magnitude of their disabilities.

    • I was thinking the really big elephant in the room is the need to keep relentless pressure on the local franchise of the public education system to be any good at all because without that relentless pressure it inevitably devolves toward “crappy”. It seems to me that that requirement suggests rather strongly that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    New Jersey provides extra funding to low income districts, called Abbott districts. They get about 25% more per student. Since beginning this program more than 20 years ago, there’s been no improvement in graduation rates or test scores.

  3. Florida resident says:

    The book “Bad Students, _not_ Bad Schools” by Robert Weissberg:

    $12.96 (+$3.99 S&H) on Amazon,

    supports this opinion.

  4. Massachusetts schools are primarily funded by local (property) taxes, not by the state. They are eighth nationally in per-pupil spending ($14,350) per the 2010 Census, trailing only Alaska, Connecticut, DC, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Wyoming.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      In most states schools are primarily funded by local property taxes. Mass isn’t unique. Joanne was commenting about spending on the state level. New Jersey’s schools are primarily funded by local property taxes, but Abbott districts receive additional funding from the state.

      • in the late 70’s the income was instituted to pay for schools by order of the courts, Newark school district sued saying property taxes were discriminatory, income taxes were the result.

    • That isn’t quite accurate. The state requires cities and towns to fund their schools to a set level, which takes into account the property values in each town, and the amount necessary to fund that town’s “foundation budget” (also set by the state for each town. At-risk students may be deemed more expensive to educate).

      The state supplements the low-income towns’ school budgets, to meet their foundation budget. The state also reimburses low-income towns’ capital expenditures at a much higher rate than affluent towns.

      So, the state makes up the difference for low-income towns, and sets the minimum amount each town must spend on education.

      The Education Reform Act of 1993 also implemented a series of controls on schools, including the MCAS and charter schools. More details (for the interested):

      To quote from that report: The basic principle adopted by the Education Reform Act is that each community should contribute an amount to its schools that is equivalent to the amount that the community would raise by imposing a property tax of a little less than 1 percent (0.94 percent, to be precise). In many wealthy communities with high property values, this tax rate would raise more than enough to fund the full costs of their schools. In property-poor districts, this tax rate would generate only a small fraction of the foundation budget amount. The state determined that rather than requiring people in low income communities to tax themselves at higher rates than people in wealthier communities, state aid to localities would be used to fill the gap between what each community would be able to raise at a 0.94 percent property tax rate and the amount of money that the state law determined would be needed to educate the students in that district. The amount that each community would be able to raise by applying the 0.94 percent property tax rate to its adjusted total property value was defined as the “minimum required local contribution.”

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    “Massachusetts, which has the strongest academic performance in almost every subject area and the highest ACT scores, spend less of its state budget on education than 45 other states, SBS reported.”

    The percentage of students in Massachusetts who are either African-American or hispanic is lower than in the other urban East Coast state.

    African Americans are only 8% of the total population of Mass. Hispanics make up 10%.

    For comparison, New York’s percents are: AA – 18%, hispanic – 18%. New Jersey’s are: AA – 15%, hispanic – 18%.

    Test scores correlate to the percentage of minority (non-white or Asian) students the state has, not funding.

    • No. If that were true, why does Virginia (71% white) outperform Rhode Island (86.3% white)? And Maryland (61% white) outperform Delaware (71% white)?

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        The demographics of the white population and its educational levels.

        Check out the census data.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        By what measure does VA outperform RI and MD outperform DE? Are we talking ACT scores or something else?

        • I chose the United States Education Dashboard, “Percent of public school 8th graders Proficient on the NAEP in reading,”

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            The article used ACT and graduation rates. While I didn’t check graduation rates, your conclusion wasn’t true for ACT scores.

          • It is downright weird to use ACT scores to judge state education levels. The only kids taking the ACT in the Northeast are those who are also taking the SAT. It’s only college-bound kids who are able to afford to take multiple standardized tests–hardly a representative sample.

            Only 9 percent of the kids in Maine take the ACT. 78 percent of the kids in South Dakota take it. Trying to compare the top 9% of high school seniors in one state to the top 78% of high school seniors in another is an invalid comparison. It says nothing about the education systems of each states.

            It says a great deal about “State Budget Solutions.” (Nothing good.)

    • Test scores correlate to the percentage of minority (non-white or Asian) students the state has, not funding.

      Another one of those damned “hate facts”.

  6. Katie Jones says:

    I agree with the first comment.

  7. GoogleMaster says:

    Texas has the Robin Hood plan, under which property taxes from “rich” districts are redistributed to “poor” districts.

    It was recently (last week) reported that “A record number of Texas school districts are now considered property wealthy and required to share their local tax revenue with the state under the so-called ‘Robin Hood’ plan.”

    “Rich” districts are primarily urban and suburban, out of sheer volume, and therefore include a mix of abysmal and excellent schools and everything in between. “Poor” districts are going to be the rural ones and almost anything down in the Valley.

  8. I also agree with the first comment. Texas tried balancing school financing with the so-called Robin Hood law, but the results were so bad that even the New York Times condemned the law and the Texas Supreme Court struck it down a few years ago.

  9. Sounds like separate by unequal is also involved in school funding. When I attended public school, the base ethnic population was better than 90% white where I attended, about 7% black, and the rest represented by other minorities.

    What I did remember was that of the black students who were in classes I had, almost everyone there was there to learn, and not get into trouble (lest you get sent to the dean’s office and then you got it from your parents).

    I don’t argue that money is important to good schools, but my next door neighbor state of Utah spends a lot less than many other states, and gets better than average results (of course the community values usually support education, etc).