After sharp spending cuts in the wake of the Great Recession, national public school funding increased for the second year in a row during the 2014-2015 school year, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics released last week.
Despite increased spending, inequalities persist in state and federal K-12 education budgets, according to another report released last week by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
In the report, the commission diagnoses an “increasing concentration of poverty and resegregation” in America’s schools—something that many education and civil rights advocates have been observing for years.
But what sets the report apart from previous analyses of budgetary inequalities in K-12 education are a set of actionable—albeit ambitious—steps laid out by the commission for Congress to fix the problem.
The trends in inequity outlined in the commission’s latest report shouldn’t surprise education experts. But they should concern them.
The report finds that minority students who live in high-poverty communities are more likely to be suspended and/or drop out of school. These students also tend to score lower on math and reading tests than middle and upper-income students. And, African-American and Hispanic students are less likely to have access to high-rigor coursework, STEM programs, or experienced teachers.
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These trends, taken together, have contributed to the persistent achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts, the report says.
The report identifies two major causes for this achievement gap:
- Inequitable school funding. There is mixed research on the correlation between school spending and student achievement. The commission recommends local, state, and federal governments look to target increased funding at the most needy schools. Public schools spend an annual average of $11,000 per pupil, the report says. But, higher-poverty districts spend nearly 16 percent less per pupil than lower-poverty districts.
- Poor housing policy. The student makeup of a school district reflects the population of its local community. The increased segregation of communities along racial and economic lines—especially in urban districts—contributes to an increase in resegregation and inequity in the classroom, the report finds.
Calls for action
While the achievement gap is seen in some education circles as a black box problem, the commission recommends several steps that the federal government—and particularly, Congress—should take to improve academic performance among poor students.
These steps will help “make clear that there is a federal right to a public education” according to Catherine E. Lhamon, who chairs the commission.
The steps include:
- Incentivizing states to develop more equitable systems for funding their public schools that consider the best ways for closing the achievement gap.
- Helping states invest in better school facilities for the most vulnerable students.
- Boosting federal education funding to help supplement states’ efforts to make education more equitable.
- Developing better systems of data collection to evaluate local, state, and federal school spending.
- Developing systems for incentivizing communities to become more integrated—both racially and economically.
These are ambitious goals, especially in today’s political climate.
What steps does your district take to ensure school spending is equitable and effective? Tell us in the comments.