Most Screwed Local Public School Districts Update 2009-2011

Here it is – my annual update of America’s most screwed school districts. This time, for stability purposes, I’ve used a 3-year average based on 2009-2011 data (2011 data being released earlier this week).

As I’ve explained in my previous posts on this topic (from last year’s post on screwed districts)…

It’s important to understand that the value of any given level of education funding, in any given location, is relative. That is, it doesn’t simply matter that a district has or spends $10,000 per pupil, or $20,000 per pupil. What matters is how that funding compares to other districts operating in the same labor market, and for that matter, how that money relates to other conditions in the region/labor market. Why? Well, schooling is labor intensive.  And the quality of schooling depends largely on the ability of schools or districts to recruit and retain quality employees. And yes… despite reformy arguments to the contrary – competitive wages for teachers matter!  The largest share of school district annual operating budgets is tied up in the salaries and wages of teachers and other school workers. The ability to recruit and retain teachers in a school district in any given labor market depends on the wage a district can pay to teachers a) relative to other surrounding schools/districts and b) relative to non-teaching alternatives in the same labor market.

In our funding fairness report, we present statewide profiles of disparities in funding with respect to poverty. But, I thought it would be fun (albeit rather depressing) here to try to identify some of the least well-funded districts in the country. Now, keep in mind that there are still around 15,000 districts nationwide.

Here is this year’s empirical definition of “screwed” in school finance terms:

  1. State and Local Revenue per Pupil (Census Fiscal Survey, 3-year Average) less than 95% of average for districts in the same labor market*
  2. Adjusted Census Poverty Rate for 5 to 17 year olds (Census Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, 3-year average) greater than 50% above average for districts in the same labor market.

*where “labor market” is defined as it is defined in the NCES Education Comparable Wage Index (essentially by core based statistical area for all districts in metropolitan or micropolitan areas).

Put very simply, districts with higher student needs than surrounding districts in the same labor market don’t just require the same total revenue per pupil to get the job done. They require more. Higher need districts require more money simply to recruit and retain similar quantities (per pupil) of similar quality teachers. That is, they need to be able to pay a wage premium. In addition, higher need districts need to be able to both provide the additional program/service supports necessary for helping kids from disadvantaged backgrounds (including smaller classes in early grades) while still maintaining advanced and enriched course options.

The districts in this table not only don’t have the “same” total state and local revenue per pupil than surrounding districts. They have less and in some cases they have a lot less! In many cases their child poverty rate is more than twice that of the surrounding districts that continue to have more resources.

State, District Relative Poverty Relative State & Local Revenue
Alabama,Bessemer City School District 2.046 0.837
Alabama,Fairfield City School District 1.562 0.803
Arizona,Sunnyside Unified District 1.681 0.816
California,Bayshore Elementary School D 1.579 0.718
California,Ravenswood City Elementary S 1.715 0.749
California,West Fresno Elementary Schoo 1.793 0.739
Colorado,Adams-Arapahoe School District 1.758 0.915
Connecticut,Bridgeport School District 2.626 0.863
Connecticut,East Hartford School Distri 1.651 0.86
Connecticut,New Britain School District 2.427 0.903
Connecticut,Waterbury School District 1.849 0.871
Delaware,Colonial School District 1.573 0.94
Georgia,Spalding County School District 1.578 0.876
Idaho,Caldwell School District 132 1.925 0.875
Illinois,Chicago Public School District 1.663 0.825
Illinois,Granite City Community Unit Sc 1.515 0.823
Illinois,Kankakee School District 111 1.681 0.943
Illinois,North Chicago School District 2.174 0.857
Illinois,Round Lake Community Unit Scho 1.836 0.733
Illinois,Waukegan Community Unit School 2.044 0.722
Indiana,Edinburgh Community School Corp 1.709 0.912
Indiana,Hammond School City 1.547 0.948
Indiana,River Forest Community School C 1.598 0.941
Kentucky,Dayton Independent School Dist 1.861 0.797
Massachusetts,Blackstone-Millville Scho 1.804 0.918
Massachusetts,Dennis-Yarmouth School Di 1.509 0.95
Massachusetts,Everett School District 2.295 0.833
Massachusetts,Lowell School District 2.425 0.898
Massachusetts,Revere School District 1.774 0.807
Massachusetts,Webster School District 1.697 0.909
Michigan,Clarenceville School District 1.634 0.945
Michigan,Clintondale Community Schools 1.789 0.829
Michigan,East Detroit Public Schools 1.803 0.864
Michigan,Godfrey-Lee Public Schools 1.893 0.913
Michigan,Hamtramck Public Schools 2.114 0.793
Michigan,Inkster City School District 1.519 0.837
Michigan,Kelloggsville Public Schools 1.589 0.929
Michigan,Madison Public Schools 1.914 0.908
Michigan,Port Huron Area School Distric 1.814 0.775
Michigan,Roseville Community Schools 1.638 0.924
Missouri,Independence Public Schools 1.622 0.943
Missouri,Jennings School District 2.086 0.891
Missouri,Ritenour School District 1.5 0.896
Missouri,Riverview Gardens School Distr 1.979 0.853
New Hampshire,Manchester School Distric 1.826 0.85
New Hampshire,Rochester School District 1.826 0.87
New Hampshire,Somersworth School Distri 1.615 0.899
New Jersey,Bound Brook Borough School D 1.727 0.929
New Jersey,Carteret Borough School Dist 1.781 0.873
New Jersey,Irvington Township School Di 2.023 0.906
New Jersey,Penns Grove-Carneys Point Re 1.57 0.929
New Jersey,Pennsauken Township School D 1.605 0.939
New Jersey,South Amboy City School Dist 1.705 0.895
New Jersey,Woodbury City School Distric 1.565 0.946
New York,Binghamton City School Distric 1.815 0.936
New York,Brentwood Union Free School Di 2.17 0.817
New York,Copiague Union Free School Dis 1.844 0.945
New York,Lansingburgh Central School Di 1.953 0.895
New York,Schenectady City School Distri 2.39 0.903
New York,Utica City School District 1.87 0.865
New York,Watervliet City School Distric 1.59 0.925
New York,William Floyd (Mastic Beach) U 1.727 0.919
North Carolina,Kannapolis City Schools 1.529 0.688
Ohio,Campbell City School District 1.509 0.9
Ohio,Clearview Local School District 1.628 0.66
Ohio,New Miami Local School District 1.909 0.827
Ohio,Northridge Local School District 2.173 0.915
Ohio,Painesville City Local School Dist 1.667 0.946
Oregon,Centennial School District 28J 1.621 0.9
Oregon,David Douglas School District 40 2.008 0.933
Oregon,Reynolds School District 7 1.974 0.927
Pennsylvania,Allentown City School Dist 2.417 0.784
Pennsylvania,Big Beaver Falls Area Scho 1.811 0.93
Pennsylvania,Connellsville Area School 1.926 0.874
Pennsylvania,Highlands School District 1.517 0.907
Pennsylvania,Laurel Highlands School Di 1.564 0.82
Pennsylvania,Lebanon School District 2.143 0.919
Pennsylvania,McKeesport Area School Dis 1.927 0.947
Pennsylvania,New Kensington-Arnold Scho 1.91 0.932
Pennsylvania,Philadelphia City School D 2.115 0.905
Pennsylvania,Reading School District 2.39 0.792
Pennsylvania,Uniontown Area School Dist 1.963 0.857
Rhode Island,Pawtucket School District 1.604 0.793
Rhode Island,Woonsocket School District 1.983 0.764
Tennessee,Hawkins County School Distric 1.552 0.863
Texas,Aldine Independent School Distric 1.634 0.917
Texas,Alief Independent School District 1.597 0.93
Texas,Castleberry Independent School Di 1.575 0.897
Texas,Dallas Independent School Distric 1.871 0.95
Texas,Edgewood Independent School Distr 1.772 0.944
Texas,Fort Worth Independent School Dis 1.654 0.935
Texas,North Forest Independent School D 1.942 0.904
Texas,San Antonio Independent School Di 1.698 0.891
Vermont,Winooski Incorporated School Di 2.818 0.867
Virginia,Fredericksburg City Public Sch 2.411 0.806
Virginia,Hopewell City Public Schools 1.94 0.92
Virginia,Manassas City Public Schools 1.548 0.936
Virginia,Norfolk City Public Schools 1.681 0.939

List includes only those districts with Urban Centric Locale Codes for Cities (11,12,13) or Suburbs (21,22,23).

And here’s a list of the states with the largest shares of children attending “screwed” districts:

State % Attending Screwed Districts
Illinois 24%
Pennsylvania 15%
New Hampshire 15%
Connecticut 12%
Delaware 12%
West Virginia 11%
Rhode Island 11%
Texas 9%
Arizona 9%
Vermont 6%
Oregon 5%
Colorado 5%
Missouri 5%

Here are the patterns of “screwedness” in states which seem to have relatively large numbers of screwed districts.


In short – school funding disparities are alive and well – and certainly don’t appear to by improving substantively in recent years. More on that at a later point.


9 thoughts on “Most Screwed Local Public School Districts Update 2009-2011

  1. Would you please create a table that has the percentage of districts/schools/kids that are screwed in each state relative to the sample of districts/schools/kids in your analysis? The you could rank states based on screwing over the highest percentage of districts/schools/kids.

  2. May 24, 2013

    Bruce, your list of districts only uses measures of poverty and state/.local revenue. Your measures do not account for property wealth. Let’s take William-Floyd UFSD which is on the frontier of the Hamptons. The property values in this community are quite high. And I suspect that there have been some immigration of high need families and groups on the south-shore of Long-Island that has raised the actual poverty measure of some communities (Copiague, Brentwood, etc). But one must also account for property wealth. And Long-Island property is taxed out of sight at the local level. So, these communities are property-rich and enjoy less money from the state despite the fact that higher pockets of poverty might prevail. This is true in NY’s foundation program and when it had a percentage-equalizing formula from the 1960s to the Pataki administration.

    Another factor that you do not consider is mis-management. William-Floyd was one of the districts in 2009 were massive mis-management occurred and spurred on the state to hire over eighty accounts to conduct audits, even external audits — which are now standard operating procedures throughout New York.

    And the sole district that you mentioned in Kentucky — Dayton Independent Schools — has undergone a significant state audit. I will send you the state audit report. It is absolute amazing about the mismanagement in this district, where the former superintendent has been found to steel district funds ($223,000.00) in 2012 or 2013 — which was I believe was the exact amount or close that the former Roslyn UFSD superintendent — along with William Floyd and Three Rivers Village — was to have stolen — but we know in Roslyn’s case that this was much more. What am I saying about Dayton — the local community has probably been reluctant to raise substantial revenue due to school district mismanagement despite the fact that school districts in Kentucky get matching funds for operating aid and school construction. And Kentucky’s General Assembly probably has been reluctant fund Dayton at its fullest capacity due its debilitating MIS-MANAGEMENT and unethical stewardship practices.

    Simply stated, if property values and mismanagement are factored in, then these might explain why there are disparate measures of poverty and state share in some of the school districts that you listed.. In other words, measures of pupil’s poverty count and state share may not explain the entire fiscal profile of a district. In remembrance of Paul Harvey, I have tried to give “the rest of the story” regarding a couple of school districts on your list.

    All in all, you continue to spur intriguing dialogue in school-finance policy.

    Tyrone Bynoe

    1. Okay… completely intentional omissions. Here’s why…

      1. Property wealth relates to local fiscal capacity to raise revenues. It may be the case that some relatively high wealth districts that now have high needs have chosen not to raise local effort to generate sufficient revenue. IN which case, the local district is partly to blame for the inadequacy. But, the state is ultimately responsible, even if that means requiring a higher local effort. IN NY state, in general, the districts with greater needs and less total state and local revenue already levy higher local effort. There are clearly exceptions.

      2. Regarding mismanagement… That any one of these districts might be mismanaging whatever they have does not excuse the fact that they have higher needs and fewer total resources than their neighbors. Indeed, it only makes a bad situation worse. But ultimately, where a state constitutional obligation exists, ensuring accountability to guard against such mismanagement becomes a state responsibility. But it cannot be an excuse for failing to provide adequate resources.

  3. Interesting… I worked in one of those districts for three years. In fact, many of us did, some even made it to that 4th year after which the district would be required to follow contract due process procedures. It’s much easier to just fire your teachers before they get “expensive.” I really felt sorry for the young teachers who had wasted four years there. Not being given “tenure” after your fourth year can be a bit of a red flag to other districts if they are unfamiliar with how the system works. I got two years of excellent evaluations followed by satisfactory in my third when they were trying to justify not rehiring me. I don’t know why they bother; they don’t have to have a reason, and at my age, it has become pretty clear that I will not be rehired.

  4. Sadly, I’m from Pennsylvania and I live in CT, so I only get to see the most screwed. I’m curious – which states are doing the best jobs of adequately and equitably funding their schools? It would be good to see how a well functioning model works.

    1. A fine point. I need to be less negative and highlight the good… or at least less bad stuff. New Jersey has done relatively well but has slipped in the past 3 years quite substantially. Massachusetts also does well, and Ohio has generally done well. Pennsylvania and Illinois are certainly among the worst. Connecticut is selectively & irregularly bad. New Britain, Bridgeport and Waterbury get screwed. Hartford and New Haven somewhat less so… but much of their additional funding is tied up in the magnet programs.

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