As if the odds weren’t already stacked against children living in poverty, the most recent data available on school funding paints an even more dire picture.
Not only is this the first year where more than half of public school students in the United States are living in poverty, but the 2012 funding data released by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that in 23 states, state and local governments spend less per pupil in the poorest school districts than in the richest districts, according to the 2012 data.
Studies show that students coming from low-income households face serious disadvantages in the classroom, have more overall needs and also lag behind in nearly every measurable academic achievement. One of the key factors is these low-income students often have a lower quality of health and nutrition, which can play a crucial role in learning.
When looking at the funding data, we’re not talking about small spending gaps.
For example, Pennsylvania spends 33 percent less per pupil in the poorest school districts vs. the most affluent. Vermont and Missouri come in with the second and third biggest gaps at 18 and 17 percent, respectively. Illinois is tied with Virgina at No. 4, spending 16.7 percent less in the poorest districts.
Nationwide, state and local government bodies spend 15 percent less per pupil in the poorest school districts. A child in an affluent school district will have $10,721 in state and local government funds spent annually on their education, compared to $9,270 if that same child was in a poor school district.
In the states with the biggest gaps, the finger can be pointed squarely at the funding formula it’s using. While school districts use a combination of state, local and federal funding, states like Pennsylvania and Illinois rely largely on local property taxes to fund education.
That results in a cycle that’s hard to break. A poorer community has cheaper housing and less property tax revenue — resulting in less funding for schools and students with a lower level of academic achievement.
“What it says very clearly is that we have, in many places, school systems that are separate and unequal,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told The Washington Post. “Money by itself is never the only answer, but giving kids who start out already behind in life, giving them less resources is unconscionable, and it’s far too common.”
Here’s a look at the difference in state and local government funding for education across the nation: