Is school funding fair? States may be failing needy students

Shocking results

The NRC provides 5 years of school funding data, from 2007 through 2011.

Perhaps the most devastating finding is that in 2011, about half of the states cut funding from 2010 levels, and in 14 states per-pupil spending in 2011 was below 2007 levels, even without adjusting for inflation.

Reversing a “positive trend,” notes the report, the number of “progressive states,”—those that provided more funds as district poverty increased—dropped between 2010 and 2011. For example, New Jersey lowered the funding boost for poor districts from 42 percent in 2009 to only 7 percent in 2011. In Utah, the funding boost was cut in half from 59 percent in 2009 to 24 percent in 2011.

“Even among ‘progressive’ states, only 8 provide more than a 10 percent boost to high-poverty districts,” say the report’s authors. “In the 5 most ‘regressive’ states (North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Nevada), the poorest districts receive at least 20 percent less funding than higher-wealth districts.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many states reduced their investment in K-12 public education in 2011. All but 3 states lowered their “fiscal effort on education between 2010 and 2011 when they faced the fiscal cliff created by the loss of federal stimulus funds,” said the report.

States making the strongest effort to fund public education devote more than 4.5 percent of their economic productivity to schools (Vermont, New Jersey and New York), while the lowest effort states (Oregon, South Dakota and Delaware) allocate 2.5 percent or less.

“This year’s [NRC] confirms that states across the country are failing to adequately and equitably invest in children,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. “A tough economy is no excuse to deny adequate education to students, regardless of their race, disability status, income, or zip code. This report also offers proof that states can do better when they prioritize students over politics.”

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Meris Stansbury

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