Sometimes I just get fed up with information spewed in the media which is simply FLAT OUT WRONG!!!! A major source of FLAT OUT WRONG information on school funding related issues these days seems to be the Education Trust, an organization which spins itself as an advocate for minority children and children in poverty. Here’s what I read this morning in the New York Times:
On the other hand, Southern politicians are keenly aware of the need for an educated work force. Spurred in part by school financing lawsuits, more than half the 15 states included in the study already provide more state and local financing to heavily poor or minority districts than to affluent or low-minority ones, according to figures compiled by Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington. But schools often layer programs on top of programs without analyzing which are effective, said Daria Hall, the trust’s director of K-12 policy.
Now, I can’t find the supposed list of 15 states (apparently, the list of fifteen is from this report) which Education Trust considers “southern” states, but I can tell you that based on my own extensive analyses, very soon to be released, based on the most recent three years of national data on all school districts, that the claim that more than half of these states “already provide more state and local financing to heavily poor and minority districts than to affluent or low-minority ones” is FLAT OUT WRONG!!!!! I’ll gladly explain to anyone and send documentation of this fact as soon as available. But I assure you, it’s flat out wrong!
Let’s consider school funding at two levels: 1) between state differences for districts of similar characteristics and 2) within state differences in funding across districts based on district poverty level.
At both of these levels, southern states continue to do very poorly, some because they lack the capacity to do much better and others (Lousiana) because they simply don’t try, put up little fiscal effort and serve very few children in their public schools. On the point made by Education Trust – only Tennessee in my most recent analysis shows an upward slope in funding between lower and higher poverty school districts. But, this finding is countered by the fact that Tennessee, after adjusting for poverty differences, economies of scale, population density, etc. comes in DEAD LAST on overall level of funding!
Several southern states are neutral, or flat in their within state funding distributions, like Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina or Kentucky and the relationship between poverty and funding across districts is not systematic one way or the other. And several southern states still maintain systems where higher poverty, higher minority concentration districts receive systematically less state and local revenue per pupil. I have a forthcoming article in West’s Education Law Reporter (with Preston Green and Joseph Oluwole) on how Alabama in particular has managed to maintain racial disparities.
Coupled with providing systematically less funding for high poverty, high minority districts, many southern states have among the lowest adjusted total state and local revenues per pupil, and have very high percentages of children not even attending the public schooling system (see my previous posts on Louisiana).
I find it absolutely baffling that a supposed advocate for equity in public schooling would make such an absurd and unfounded claim, and follow that claim with the charge that the poor, minority southern school districts have only themselves to blame and that their state legislatures have done their part. (Ed Trust argues above: “But schools often layer programs on top of programs without analyzing which are effective, said Daria Hall, the trust’s director of K-12 policy.”)
This kind of unfounded, ill-conceived, misguided rhetoric is not helfpful to anyone, especially the children in school districts for whom E d Trust claims to advocate.
Quick follow up on the “spurred in part by school funding lawsuits:” Here’s a map of where school funding lawsuits have been successful, where they have not, and where they have not been filed: http://www.schoolfunding.info/states/state_by_state.php3 Notice that in several southern states (all of the deep south), these funding lawsuits have been won by states or dismissed or never filed (Mississippi).
Just for fun, here are some graphs of the relative state and local revenue per pupil – relative to the labor market average for each district – for the southern 15 states referred to above. In the graphs, larger (enrollment) districts are represented by larger bubbles. What to look for: If a state really was systematically targeting significantly greater funding to higher poverty districts, districts on the right hand side of these figures would be systematically above the 1.0 line. That is, districts with high poverty would have more – systematically and substantially more – state and local revenue than the average for districts in their labor market. There are no additional adjustments made here (no poverty weights used, etc.). When Education Trust calculates its “Funding Gaps” it simply takes the average of of the top and bottom districts, ignoring all in between and ignoring whether those averages are representative of any actual pattern. Further, even if the average difference in funding per pupil is 50 cents for the high poverty versus low poverty group, apparently that would count as targeting to higher poverty. Here are the slides of the actual patterns for 2006-07.