The Persistent Funding Gap in K-12 Education

A new report from the Education Trust shows that despite rhetoric at state levels about providing all children with a quality education, funding levels still favor white and affluent communities. According to Funding Gaps 2015, U.S. school districts serving the largest populations of low-income students receive roughly $1,200, or 10 percent, less per student in state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts. The gap widens exponentially when considering whole school populations: For a middle school with 500 students, a gap of $1,200 per student means a shortage of $600,000 per year. For a 1,000-student high school, the difference increases to $1.2 million per year.

“Our data show that the students needing the most supports are given the least,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, K-12 senior data and policy analyst and co-author of the report. “As conversations on how to improve achievement for our nation’s youth, particularly those who start school academically behind, are hotly debated in statehouses across the nation, closing long-standing funding gaps must be addressed. While money isn’t the only thing that matters for student success, it most certainly matters. Districts with more resources can, for example, use those funds to attract stronger teachers and principals and to offer students more academic support.”

Key Findings

  • In 17 states, high-poverty districts receive substantially (at least 5 percent) more in state and local funds than low-poverty districts. Ohio and Minnesota are the most progressive; in these states, high-poverty districts receive about 22 percent more dollars per student from state and local sources than districts with the fewest students in poverty.
  • In six states, the highest poverty districts receive substantially fewer state and local funds than their lowest poverty counterparts. By far the largest gap is in Illinois, where the highest poverty districts receive nearly 20 percent less state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts. The next two most regressive states are New York and Pennsylvania, followed by Texas, Maryland, and Michigan.
  • The remaining 24 states provide similar amounts of funding (a difference of less than 5 percent) to high- and low-poverty districts.
  • While the overwhelming majority of states do provide more state dollars to their highest poverty districts than their lowest poverty districts, the relative size of those additional allocations varies greatly. Nine states, for example, provide more than twice as much (i.e., more than a 100 percent difference) in state funds to their highest poverty districts than their lowest poverty districts. On the other end of the spectrum, five states provide roughly the same amount to districts, regardless of poverty.

Read Funding Gaps 2015 by Natasha Ushomirsky and David Williams from the Education Trust.