Monday, April 6, 2015

The School Funding Gap Is Worse

Over at the Hechinger Report, Jill Barshay has been crunching school funding numbers, and while her news is not really news for anyone who's been paying attention, it now comes with numbers and charts and color-coded maps.

Since 2000, the gap between rich and poor schools has been growing in at least thirty states. In 2001-2002, rich schools were getting 10.8% more state and local resources than poor schools. A decade later that gap was 15.6%, an increase of about 44%.

Barshay has made some handy interactive maps to break this down by states. The prize-winning Very Worst States for school funding gaps in 2011-2012 include Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Illinois, Virginia, New York, Vermont, and Rhode Island.

Barshay says that once you add federal dollars, the gaps almost disappear. I have some doubts about that (if it's true in PA, it's true in some way that's largely invisible to people on the ground), but she also indicates that this is a problem, and she quotes an anonymous USED source:

“Federal dollars were never intended to act as an equalizer for an unfair playing field set by state and local dollars,” said a U.S. Department of Education official, who said she was required to speak anonymously. “They are explicitly intended to supplement.”

As explained by education historian Diane Ravitch:

ESEA was originally conceived as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty.” It had one overriding purpose: to send federal funding to schools that enrolled large numbers of children living in poverty.  

But since ESEA became No Child Left Behind, it has become the crowbar used by the feds to force state mouths open so they will take their medicine, whatever medicine currently believe that states must take. This is not an unusual trajectory for federal money-- first it's given to address a problem, but sooner or later the feds want to know if they're getting bang for their buck, which invariably leads to federal kibbitzing about how said bang can be best achieved. Then once the feds have put themselves in charge of bang measurement and enforcement, lobbyists and corporations are drawn like moths to the flame, offering their expertise and assistance in developing bangological measures and programs and other Wise Methods to spend all those sweet, sweet bang-directed bucks. And that's about where we are now.

But I digress.

Barshay crunches numbers a few different ways, with maps to boot. One shows the 2001-2002 gaps. There's one that shows the change in spending gaps over the decade, and some states have actually gotten better-- there are such places. Some states, like Pennsylvania and Missouri, look terrible every time.

She acknowledges that computing cost-per-pupil is a fuzzy science at best and that some states have changed their accounting methods. But while the specifics of her compiled numbers may be arguable, the overall trend is not. She also points out that a low spending gap for schools can be achieved by just giving all schools lousy funding (she's looking at you, California). Nor does she think (it is an opinion piece) that there's any reason for poor schools to play catch-up with Rich Kid Academy and its heated tennis courts and cappucino service.

She finishes with an unexpected thought-- "It kind of makes you wish for a federal takeover of the educational financing system." Well, no, it doesn't (see above buck/bang discussion). But it does provide more context for the ongoing discussions of funding tied up in ESEA rewrite negotiations.

1 comment:

  1. Indiana is poised to roll back its support of poor children. Proposed legislation would make per-pupil funding more flat by decreasing or eliminating the additional money supplied for children identified as living in poverty. The result will be drastic cuts to urban schools and small gains to growing suburban schools. Indiana may soon lose its green tint in these charts.