Is school funding fair? States may be failing needy students

The report, “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card [NRC],” is produced by the Education Law Center (ELC), which advocates for at-risk students, and is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, along with others. The authors say the report makes many “assumptions” about how school funding systems should be designed.

The report grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia on funding fairness based on four basic principles:

1. A fair funding system should provide levels of funding based on student need;

2. Student poverty is the most critical variable affecting funding levels and can serve as a proxy for other measures of disadvantage, such as racial segregation, limited English proficiency and student mobility;

3. Fair funding systems are designed “progressively” so that funding increases relative to student poverty;

4. A sufficient overall level of funding is a crucial starting point for any funding formula to be successful.

Using these principles as a foundation of their assessments of “fairness,” the ELC evaluated states on four fairness measures, including:

1. Funding level: States are ranked from the highest to lowest in per pupil funding.

2. Funding distribution: States are measured as “regressive,” “progressive,” or “flat” based on whether they provide more or less funding to schools based on their poverty concentration in comparison to other states.

3. Effort: The differences in state spending relative to the state’s fiscal capacity.

4. Coverage: The proportion of school-aged children attending the state’s public schools and the income disparity between families using public and nonpublic schools.

For more information on the specifics of these measures, read the report.

“As this National Report Card shows, most states did not step up when the federal stimulus dried up,” said David Sciarra, ELC executive director and NRC coauthor. “These latest results show school finance in most states is decidedly unfair, a condition which deprives equal educational opportunity to millions of public school children across the nation.”

(Next page: The shocking results)

Meris Stansbury

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