More Inexcusable Inequalities: New York State in the Post-Funding Equity Era

I did a post a short while back about the fact that there are persistent inequities in state school finance formulas and that those  persistent inequities have real consequences for students’ access to key resources in schools – specifically their access to a rich array of programs, services, courses and other opportunities.  In that post I referred to the post school funding equity era as this perceived time in which we live. Been there, done that. Funding equity? No problem. We all know funding doesn’t matter anyway. Funding can’t buy a better education. It’s all about reform. Not funding. And we all know that the really good reformy strategies can, in fact, achieve greater output with even less funding. Hey, just look at all of those high flying, no excuses charter schools. Wait… aw crap… it seems that many of them actually do spend quite a bit. But, back to my point. Alexander Russo put up a good post today about those pesky school funding gaps, asking whatever happened to them? And he nailed it when he pointed out:

 If funding didn’t matter, then rich districts wouldn’t bother taxing themselves to provide resources to local kids.  If funding didn’t matter, high-performing charter schools wouldn’t cost so much.  Until and unless funding matters again in the public debate over education, I fear that we’ll largely be left fiddling at the margins (which is what it feels like we’re doing now).

I will have much more to say in the near future about the mythology about whether, why and how money matters in education. In this post, I’d just like to illustrate some of the extremes in access to resources that persist across school districts in New York State, which along with Illinois (the topic of Russo’s post) remains among the most inequitable states in the nation. (see:

Let’s start here.

This is a snapshot if the total expenditures per pupil and the need and cost adjusted expenditures per pupil of some of the MOST and LEAST advantaged school districts in New York State (in terms of a mix of need & spending measures). Without any adjustment for needs and costs, the high poverty, high need districts in many cases are spending below $16,000 per pupil, and the Top 30 districts nearly double that. When adjusted for needs/costs, the disparities widen dramatically.

Even worse, as I’ve explained a few times on this blog, New York State actually uses state aid to help support these disparities, by giving unnecessarily large sums of aid to the top group while continuing to cut aid from the bottom. Here is the distribution of some of that aid:

And here is the distribution of the most recent per pupil cuts in aid:

This all results in a rather ugly pattern of disparities that look rather like this, when we compare current need and cost adjusted funding levels with current district outcomes, as I did in a recent post on Illinois and Connecticut schools:

Because NY has so many districts, I’ve included only the relatively large ones here. This graph shows that districts with more need and cost adjusted funding tend to have higher outcomes and those with less need and cost adjusted funding tend to have lower outcomes. But, this graph is not intended to be a causal representation of that relationship. Rather, it’s intended to display the patterns of disparity across these districts. In the Lower Left are districts that are very high need, very low resources and very low outcomes. Among the standouts in this group are Utica and Poughkeepsie (in red in the first table above).  In the upper right hand corner of the picture are the lower need, high resource and high outcome districts.

What I’ve been finding most interesting though hardly surprising in my research is just how stark the consequences of these disparities are in terms of the actual programs and services provided within these districts. Reformy logic has told us in the past (see: that really, these districts in the lower left have more than enough money but they insist on wasting it all on junk like cheerleading and ceramics when they should be putting it into basic math/reading coursework.  Alternatively, related reformy logic is that these districts are really just wasting it all on paying additional salaries for experience and degree levels when they could just pay teachers the base salary and do just as well (I’m sure Utica would have great luck in recruiting and retaining teachers with that kind of salary structure. Actually, one of the better articles on relative salaries and teacher job choices uses data on upstate NY cities:

Setting aside these, well, completely stupid and unfounded claims (which are so pervasive in today’s education policy debate, especially in NY State), these next few slides take a look at the types of disparities in access to specific courses and opportunities faced by students in New York State’s schools.

First, here are a few slides using data from the Office of Civil Rights data collection on AP participation rates and participation in other key milestone courses.These data are shown with respect to district poverty rates, and poor small city districts (and some less poor, but still not advantaged ones) are highlighted.

This first slide shows the ratio of students in 7th grade (early) algebra to those taking algebra in  high school. As poverty rates increase, rates of participation in early algebra decline.Clearly, to a large extent, this pattern occurs because fewer students in these districts are prepared for early algebra.

This slide shows overall participation in advanced placement courses. Overall, AP participation declines as poverty increases. Again, this is likely partly due to differences in readiness for these courses among higher poverty populations.

But, it’s also likely due to differences in access to/availability of resources.   For a high need district to both a) provide the advanced opportunities for kids in middle and secondary school and b) make sure kids are prepared to take advantage of those opportunities, those districts would need additional resources on the front end – to make sure kids are prepared for early algebra and on the back end to be able to provide the advanced courses once kids are prepared.

The contrast between the top 30 and bottom 30 (and small city) districts in New York State, as evidenced by the allocation of teaching assignments is striking and disturbing. Let’s start with allocation of teaching assignments to advanced and college credit courses (all are not included). I’ve tallied teaching assignments per 1,000 student (in the group of schools, excluding NYC) based on statewide staffing data from 2010-11.This is very preliminary stuff, from a large data set on all teacher assignments in NY State.

What this first tally shows is that in the high performing, high spending, affluent school districts, there are .5 teacher assignments per 1,000 pupils allocated to AP Physics B. In low performing, low spending, high poverty districts, there are only .05 teacher assignments per 1,000 pupils. That adds up to a disparity ratio of 8.61. In other words, pupils in advantaged districts have nearly 9 times the access to teachers assigned to AP Physics as do pupils in disadvantaged districts. In nearly every and any college credit or AP course, disparity ratios run from about 2 to 9 fold differences. The same is true for disparities specifically between the top districts and poor small city districts which largely fall in the lower left of the Quadrant figure above.

Now, you might be saying…well… they don’t have these programs because of all of their frivolous spending on music and arts. Not so much.

On average, most middle and secondary music and arts staffing assignments also run at about a 2 fold or greater disparity between high and low need/resource districts in New York State.  Kids in high need, low resource, low outcome districts have substantially less access to band, chorus, orchestra, private instrumental or vocal lessons…. and JAZZ BAND! This is not an exhaustive list. And a handful of arts opportunities are allocated roughly with parity (1:1), but high need, low resource districts do not have substantially greater resources allocated to any of these areas and generally have much less.

The one area where the resource balance shifts systematically is in the allocation of remedial and special education related staffing assignments. Here are some examples. Even in special education, in some cases high resources districts retain their advantage. But on average, the higher need, lower resource districts are driving additional resources into special education related teaching assignments. And just to clarify, no, these districts are not way ahead on class size reduction. A few are. Others clearly are not!

In general in NY State, high need districts are, well, screwed. And as I’ve shown in recent posts, the current leadership in New York State has done little to really help – and arguably much to hurt.

Inequity still matters.

Funding inequity has real consequences for the programs, services and educational opportunities that can be provided to kids.

Anyone who suggests otherwise – that funding is somehow irrelevant to any and all of this – is, well, full of crap. These things cost money. Providing both/and costs more than providing either/or.

To reiterate, this is not the post-funding era!

In fact, quite depressingly, we may be sitting at the edge of a new era of dramatic educational inequalities unlike any we’ve experienced in recent decades.


Published by schoolfinance101

Bruce Baker is an Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. From 1997 to 2008 he was a professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. He is lead author with Preston Green (Penn State University) and Craig Richards (Teachers College, Columbia University) of Financing Education Systems, a graduate level textbook on school finance policy published by Merrill/Prentice-Hall. Professor Baker has written a multitude of peer reviewed research articles on state school finance policy, teacher labor markets, school leadership labor markets and higher education finance and policy. His recent work has focused on measuring cost variations associated with schooling contexts and student population characteristics, including ways to better design state school finance policies and local district allocation formulas (including Weighted Student Funding) for better meeting the needs of students. Baker, along with Preston Green of Penn State University are co-authors of the chapter on Conceptions of Equity in the recently released Handbook of Research Education Finance and Policy, and co-authors of the chapter on the Politics of Education Finance in the Handbook of Education Politics and Policy and co-authors of the chapter on School Finance in the Handbook of Education Policy of the American Educational Research Association. Professor Baker has also consulted for state legislatures, boards of education and other organizations on education policy and school finance issues and has testified in state school finance litigation in Kansas, Missouri and Arizona. He is a member of the Think Tank Review Panel, a group of academic researchers who conduct technical reviews of publicly released think tank reports on education policy issues.

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