Most Screwed Local Public School Districts Update 2009-2011

Posted on May 24, 2013

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.

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