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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Inner-city schools aren't underfunded any more

Abbott Elementary, a popular ABC sitcom about teachers at an inner-city Philadelphia school, is "entertaining but not elucidating" about public education, writes Robert Pondiscio, author of How the Other Half Learns, on Education Next.

The fictional school is beset by "lack of funding, outdated equipment, and a staff that is overworked and underpaid," yet dedicated to their students, writes Pondiscio, who once taught fifth graders in the Bronx.

It's a sitcom, not a documentary, he writes.

The show’s idea of a "disruptive student" is a child who calls out off-topic references to a TV show in class while his classmates are sitting in rapt attention to the teacher’s science lesson.
. . . The child is sent to the office of the principal, a vain, self-absorbed, and ineffective figure who commands little respect from her staff. When she sends the child back to class with a toy, the rest of the class erupts. That’s his punishment? Now they, too, want to be sent to the principal’s office.
OK, so that part is realistic.

In the second season, Abbott loses students to a new charter school that "is filled with new books, French classes, a new computer lab, and more — in contrast to Abbott, which . . . is 'underfunded,' not badly managed," Pondiscio writes.

Most charters have less to spend per student than district schools not more.

But it's just a TV show, Pondiscio concludes. "If every district-run school in Philadelphia were like Abbott Elementary, you wouldn’t put your kid in a charter. Or teach in one."

Abbott Elementary teachers visit a nearby charter school that's better equipped and freshly painted.

Is education funding unequal? Not any more, writes Adam Tyner as part of Fordham's Think Again series challenging conventional wisdom. In recent years, with help from federal funding, spending has risen dramatically and equalized for students from low- and high-income families.

However, equal funding doesn't necessarily mean equal education quality. Providing some resources, such as high-quality teachers, "costs more in schools that serve more disadvantaged student populations," Tyner writes.

"Students from poor families generally attend better-funded schools than students from wealthier families, and disparities in outcomes between student groups can no longer be attributed to funding gaps," he concludes. "The effectiveness of increased education funding faces diminishing returns in some places." Other policy changes may have more impact.

Many years ago, I asked an education researcher how much extra funding it would take to equalize achievement for children living in poverty. With money alone, it would be insanely, impossibly expensive, he said.

2 comentários

Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Malcolm Kirkpatrick
21 de jul. de 2023

Download into a spreadsheet:

US DOE NCES _Digest of Education Statistics_(2021)

Table 215.20.Revenues, expenditures, poverty rate, and Title I allocations of public school districts enrolling more than 15,000 students in 2019: 2018-19 and fiscal year 2021

US DOE NCES _Digest of Education Statistics_(2020)

Table 215.10.Selected statistics on enrollment, teachers, dropouts, and graduates in public school districts enrolling more than 15,000 students in 2018: Selected years, 1990 through 2018

Let for of fraction FRL

e = enrollment

$R = district-level revenues

%Black = fraction of Black enrollment

%White = fraction of White enrollment

% FRL = fraction of enrollment eligible for free or reduced price lunch

%5-17 poverty = fraction of 5 to 17 year-old population of the district's catchment area…


Richard Rider
Richard Rider
13 de jul. de 2023

Excellent point. Charter schools get LESS money than public schools. Today's urban public schools are well funded indeed. In DC, they spend over $30,000 per student, with abysmal results. In CA, the left claims that the low inner city school achievement scores (and everything else that is wrong in CA) were caused by the passage of Prop 13 (which reformed property tax formulas) in 1978. The mantra is that Prop 13 starved public schools, so the people in government cannot be held accountable for the results. But the truth is, Prop 13 did NOT "destroy public schools." Admittedly it's a common misconception.

Today's CA property tax revenues are significantly higher than before Prop 13 passed, EVEN AFTER ADJUSTING FOR BOTH POPULATION GROWTH…

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