Is school funding fair? For too many students, the answer is still no.

Since 2010, the Education Law Center has published national report cards on how states are (or aren't) investing in their schools and students. "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," released Wednesday, paints a worrying picture. In most states, ELC has found that public funding for schools is both unfair and inequitable: that is, not only are schools not receiving the funds they need, the schools that need funding the most are the ones with the most dramatic shortfalls.

Based on data from the most recent Census fiscal survey, ELC researchers looked to discover how fairly states are distributing funding once rates of student poverty are taken into account. They used four separate metrics to determine fairness: Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort, and Coverage. Based on their findings, ELC found "little improvement over the past five years in those states that consistently fail to direct additional funding to districts with high levels of need, as measured by student poverty." Indeed, the only state that is positioned "relatively well" on all fairness metrics was New Jersey.

ELC also found significant inequities between states, even when controlling for variations in costs: "Alaska and New York, the states with the highest funding levels, spend more than two and half times what is spent by Utah and Idaho, the states with the lowest funding levels."

Other findings include:

  • Funding levels show wide disparities among states, ranging from a high of $17,331 per pupil in Alaska, to a low of $5,746 in Idaho.
  • Many of the states with the lowest funding levels, such as California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, invest a very low percentage of state economic capacity in funding public education.
  • Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Illinois, are regressive, providing less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of low-income students.
  • Certain regions of the country exhibit a double disadvantage – many states with low funding overall add no additional funds for concentrated student poverty. These include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico in the Southwest.
  • Only a handful of states – Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Ohio – have generally high funding levels while also providing significantly more funding to districts where student poverty is highest.
  • Low rankings on school funding fairness correlate to poor state performance on key indicators of essential education resources, including less access to early childhood education, non-competitive wages for teachers, and higher teacher-to-pupil ratios.

Perhaps the best tool to come from this report is the interactive section of its website that allows you to engage with the data, look at ranking changes and historical trends. Check it out, and read the full report here.

Since its inception, ELC's national report card on school funding has proven an invaluable tool for funders, advocates and communities who are working to ensure all children have an opportunity to learn in an equitably funded public school. This year's report reminds us all of how much work there is left to be done.

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