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May 1, 2013
Vol. 70
No. 8

Double Take

Research Alert

Funding—and Fairness

What role does school funding play in school improvement? According to a recent report published by the Education Law Center, "sufficient school funding, fairly distributed to districts to address concentrated poverty, is an essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education through the states" (p. 1).
The report evaluated the 50 U.S. states on four fairness measures: per-pupil funding levels; funding distribution (whether a state provides more or less funding to schools on the basis of their poverty concentration); effort (differences in state spending relative to the state's fiscal capacity); and coverage (the proportion of children in public schools and the income ratio of private and public school families).
Here are some findings:
  • Six states are positioned relatively well on all four fairness measures: Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Kansas, and New Mexico.
  • The national average funding level (adjusted to account for such issues as student poverty and regional wage variation) is $10,774 per pupil.
  • The highest-funded states are, for the most part, in the Northeast. The lowest-funded states predominate in the South and West.
  • There's enormous disparity between the highest- and lowest-funded states. For example, a student in Tennessee receives less than 40 percent of the funding of a comparable student in Wyoming.
  • Only 17 states have progressive funding systems, meaning they provide greater funding to high-poverty districts. The four states with the most progressive funding systems are Utah, New Jersey, Ohio, and Minnesota. Six states have regressive funding systems, meaning that districts with higher poverty rates receive less funding than more affluent districts.
  • Many states do poorly on two of the four measures: state effort and funding distribution.
The report, Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card, written by Bruce Baker, David Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie, is available at

Numbers of Note

58.5 The percentage of Americans who will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 20 and 75.
Source: Hacker, J. S. (2006). The great risk shift: The new insecurity and the decline of the American dream. New York: Oxford University Press.
38 The percentage of increase in the poverty rate for U.S. children under the age of 6 between 2000 and 2011.
<ATTRIB> Source: Children's Defense Fund. (2012). Child poverty in America: 2011. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from </ATTRIB>

Online Only

Help for Closing Achievement Gaps

The National Education Association's Priority School Campaign offers resources schools can use to help close income-related achievement gaps. The campaign's website links to free guides and reports, activities to increase parent engagement, assessments of classroom culture, suggestions for reaching specific minority groups, and more. (Go to the Successful Student Resources section.)
Check out the downloadable 68-page guide, CARE: Strategies for Closing the Achievement Gaps. The guide describes skills that teachers of low-income students need to effectively teach their students and suggests activities teachers can use to make classrooms culturally competent, promote student resilience, and engage struggling learners.
Other helpful poverty-related freebies include a Pocket Guide to Preventing Dropouts and a PDF titled Ten Key Strategies for Building Better Partnerships.

Relevant Reads

<EMPH TYPE="3">No Citizen Left Behind by Meira Levinson (Harvard University Press, 2012)
In 1998, Meira Levinson had an epiphany. As a teacher at Walden Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, whose student body was 100 percent black and poor, her school's rigorous curriculum was centered on black culture, and her students were engaged and inspired. When the school was trounced by one of the district's two majority-white schools in the National Academic League Quiz Bowl, Levinson realized she was doing her students a disservice by allowing them to "live entirely in a black world in which their peers, relatives, neighbors, ministers, radio stations, and even television programs had identical cultural and historical referents." Levinson describes what transformations are needed in schools and what those transformations look like in practice.
"We can't transform American society—which is what it would take truly to empower my students from Walden—simply by transforming opportunities for one kid at a time. Instead, I am convinced, schools need to teach young people knowledge and skills to upend and reshape power relationships directly, through public, political, and civic action, not just private self-improvement." (p. 13)

World Spin

Starting Early

In Quebec, Canada, the ministry of education plans to allow 4-year-olds from underprivileged families to attend school full-time. The initiative is an attempt to curb the province's high dropout rate: 36 percent of its students leave school without graduating, and most of these students come from poor families. Starting in September, the program will be offered on a voluntary basis to the parents of 1,200 preschool children, with the eventual objective of reaching 8,000 preschoolers.


"The saddest are the children who cry when we get out early for a snow day because they won't get lunch."
<ATTRIB> Christy Felling </ATTRIB>

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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