America’s Most “Financially Disadvantaged” (e.g. Screwed) School Districts 2013

For a number of years I’ve been producing lists of what I call America’s Most Screwed Public School Districts. The kind folks at Center for American Progress, in 2012, worked with me to put out a report on these districts, and how they got where they are.

I’ve also shown on this blog that some/many of these districts have been screwed for years… decades in fact. These include major cities like Chicago, IL and Philadelphia, PA, as well as secondary cities like Reading, PA, Allentown, PA, Waukegan, IL, Bridgeport, CT, New Britain, CT among others.

The attached table uses the following thresholds for the analysis:

  • More than 50% higher census poverty rate than the average for all districts sharing the same labor market.
  • Less than 90% of the state and local revenue per pupil of the average for all districts sharing the same labor market.

As I’ve explained numerous times on this blog, relative resources and relative conditions matter greatly in school finance. From the CAP report:

It is important to understand that the value of any given level of education funding, in any given location, is relative. That is, it matters less whether a district spends $10,000 per pupil or $20,000 per pupil than how that funding compares to other districts operating in the same regional labor market—and, for that matter, how that money relates to other conditions in the regional labor market.

The first reason relative funding matters is that schooling is labor intensive. The quality of schooling depends largely on the ability of schools or districts to recruit and retain quality employees. The largest share of school districts’ 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 relative to other surrounding schools or districts and relative to nonteaching alternatives in the same labor market.[2] The second reason is that graduates’ access to opportunities beyond high school is largely relative and regional. The ability of graduates of one school district to gain access to higher education or the labor force depends on the regional pool in which the graduate must compete.

So, without further ado, here’s this year’s list, based on averages from 2011 to 2013. I’ve excluded districts in rural labor markets, districts with fewer than 2,000 students and non-k12 districts for now!

Table 1

Bottom line – There’s simply no excuse to have local public school districts with, in many cases, twice the poverty rate of their surroundings and substantively less funding per pupil to meet those children’s needs. It is well understoodwell understood -well freakin’ understood that these children require more resources and that more resources matter, despite decades of unsubstantiated and empirically bankrupt blather to the contrary.




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.

%d bloggers like this: