School Funding Inequalities

Monday, February 7, 2022 8:59:25 AM

School Funding Inequalities

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The wicked problem of school funding

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Recent analyses of data prepared for school finance cases in Alabama, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana, and Texas have found that on every tangible measure—from qualified teachers to curriculum offerings—schools serving greater numbers of students of color had significantly fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students. As William L. Taylor and Dianne Piche noted in a report to Congress: Inequitable systems of school finance inflict disproportionate harm on minority and economically disadvantaged students.

On an inter-state basis, such students are concentrated in states, primarily in the South, that have the lowest capacities to finance public education. On an intra-state basis, many of the states with the widest disparities in educational expenditures are large industrial states. In these states, many minorities and economically disadvantaged students are located in property-poor urban districts which fare the worst in educational expenditures or in rural districts which suffer from fiscal inequity. Jonathan Kozol s Savage Inequalities described the striking differences between public schools serving students of color in urban settings and their suburban counterparts, which typically spend twice as much per student for populations with many fewer special needs.

Contrast MacKenzie High School in Detroit, where word processing courses are taught without word processors because the school cannot afford them, or East St. Louis Senior High School, whose biology lab has no laboratory tables or usable dissecting kits, with nearby suburban schools where children enjoy a computer hookup to Dow Jones to study stock transactions and science laboratories that rival those in some industries. Or contrast Paterson, New Jersey, which could not afford the qualified teachers needed to offer foreign language courses to most high school students, with Princeton, where foreign languages begin in elementary school.

L Linda Darling-Hammond. Even within urban school districts, schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students receive fewer instructional resources than others. And tracking systems exacerbate these inequalities by segregating many low-income and minority students within schools. In combination, these policies leave minority students with fewer and lower-quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers; significantly larger class sizes; less qualified and experienced teachers; and less access to high-quality curriculum.

Many schools serving low-income and minority students do not even offer the math and science courses needed for college, and they provide lower-quality teaching in the classes they do offer. It all adds up. Since the Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, another debate has waged as to whether money makes a difference to educational outcomes. It is certainly possible to spend money ineffectively; however, studies that have developed more sophisticated measures of schooling show how money, properly spent, makes a difference. Over the past 30 years, a large body of research has shown that four factors consistently influence student achievement: all else equal, students perform better if they are educated in smaller schools where they are well known to students is optimal , have smaller class sizes especially at the elementary level , receive a challenging curriculum, and have more highly qualified teachers.

Minority students are much less likely than white children to have any of these resources. In predominantly minority schools, which most students of color attend, schools are large on average, more than twice as large as predominantly white schools and reaching 3, students or more in most cities ; on average, class sizes are 15 percent larger overall 80 percent larger for non-special education classes ; curriculum offerings and materials are lower in quality; and teachers are much less qualified in terms of levels of education, certification, and training in the fields they teach. After controlling for socioeconomic status, the large disparities in achievement between black and white students were almost entirely due to differences in the qualifications of their teachers.

In combination, differences in teacher expertise and class sizes accounted for as much of the measured variance in achievement as did student and family background figure 1. Ferguson and Duke economist Helen Ladd repeated this analysis in Alabama and again found sizable influences of teacher qualifications and smaller class sizes on achievement gains in math and reading. They found that more of the difference between the high- and low-scoring districts was explained by teacher qualifications and class sizes than by poverty, race, and parent education. Meanwhile, a Tennessee study found that elementary school students who are assigned to ineffective teachers for three years in a row score nearly 50 percentile points lower on achievement tests than those assigned to highly effective teachers over the same period.

Strikingly, minority students are about half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers and twice as likely to be assigned to the least effective. Minority students are put at greatest risk by the American tradition of allowing enormous variation in the qualifications of teachers. Commission on Civil Rights published a report Thursday titled Public Education Funding Equity: In an Era of Increasing Concentration of Poverty and Resegregation , which confirms what educators have known for a long time now -- that educational resources and outcomes have a lot to do with a child's particular neighborhood. Residential segregation causes a disparity in educational opportunity because it creates higher-income communities, with predominantly white school districts that have more local tax revenue for their schools, compared to fewer dollars and resources for school districts in low-income, minority neighborhoods.

The Chair of the U. The inequitable spending results in achievement gaps among predominantly Black and Latino students. Schools with a majority of Black and Latino high school students have less access to high-rigor courses than predominantly white schools. For instance, the authors said, 33 percent of high schools with high black and Latino enrollment offer calculus, compared with 56 percent of high schools with low black and Latino student populations. Nationwide, 48 percent of schools offer the rigorous math course. The Massachusetts Act of required that parents see to it that their children knew how to read and write; when that law was roundly ignored, the colony passed the Massachusetts School Law of , which required every town with 50 households or more hire someone to teach the children to read and write.

Walker, a Texas educator and historian. Determined to carry out their vision for common school, the Puritans instituted a property tax on an annual basis—previously, it had been used to raise money only when needed. Connecticut followed in with a law requiring towns to teach local children, and used the same type of financing. Property tax was not a new idea; it came from a feudal system set up by William the Conquerer in the 11th century when he divided up England among his lieutenants, who required the people on the land to pay a fee in order to live there.

What was new about the colonial property-tax system was how local it was. Every year, town councils would meet and discuss property taxes, how much various people should pay, and how that money was to be spent. The tax was relatively easy to assess because it was much simpler to see how much property a person owned that it was to see how much money he made. Unsurprisingly, the amounts various residents had to pay were controversial. A John Adams — instituted national property tax in was widely hated and then repealed. Initially, this system of using property taxes to pay for local schools did not lead to much inequality. Public education began to become more common in the midth century.

Their answer: public schools. The education reformer Horace Mann, for example, who became the secretary of the newly formed Massachusetts Board of Education in , believed that public schooling was necessary for the creation of a national identity. Though schooling had, until then, been left up to local municipalities, states began to step in. After Mann created the Board of Education in , he lobbied for and won a doubling of state expenditures on education. In , Massachusetts passed the first law requiring parents to send their children to a public school for at least 12 weeks. Despite widespread acceptance of mandatory public education by the end of the 19th century, the task of educating students remained a matter for individual states, not the nation as a whole.

And states still left much of the funding of schools up to cities and towns, which relied on property tax. In , property taxes accounted for This means that as America urbanized and industrialized and experienced more regional inequality, so, too, did the schools. Areas that had poorer families or less valuable land had less money for schools. In the early part of the 20th century, states tried to step in and provide grants to districts so that school funding was equitable, according to Allan Odden, an expert in school finance who is a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The disparities became more and more stark in the decades after World War II, when white families moved out of the cities into the suburbs and entered school systems there, and black families were stuck in the cities, where property values plummeted and schools lacked basic resources.

In some states, where school districts were run on the county level, costs could be shared between rich and poor districts by combining and integrating them, especially after Brown v. Board of Education. But in states like Connecticut, with deeper histories of public schooling, there were hundreds of separate districts, and it was much more difficult to combine them or to equalize funding across them. The most aggressive attempt to ameliorate these disparities came in , in a Supreme Court case, San Antonio Independent School District v. It began when a father named Demetrio Rodriguez, whose sons attended a dilapidated elementary school in a poor area of San Antonio, sued the state of Texas, claiming that the way that schools were funded fundamentally violated the U.

Rodriguez wanted the justices to apply the same logic they had applied in Brown v. Board of Education —that every student is guaranteed an equal opportunity to education. The justices disagreed. In a 5 — 4 decision, they ruled that there is no right to equal funding in education under the Constitution.

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