The deck is stacked against poor students because poor schools don’t have the resources to meet their needs and allow them to succeed educationally.
That’s an argument that is frequently made by people and often accompanied by an appeal for more resources or a dim view of the future. Add the editorial page of the Transylvania Times to that list of appeal makers. Last week the paper lamented how North Carolina grades schools for school report cards. The editors said “the report cards revealed a direct link between poverty and academic growth and achievement. In fact, poverty is the single greatest variable when it comes to predicting whether or not a school or school system is performing well or poorly.”
Such statements paint a grim picture of poor kids trapped in poor districts with little hope for the future.
Is that true? Do poor schools really lack the resources they need to help their students succeed?
If you examine the data more closely, you see this is simply not the case.
A 2015 analyses by Brian Balfour of the Civitas Institute is helpful in answering these questions. Balfour compared total per pupil funding by district to county per capita income in North Carolina. Balfour found the conventional wisdom to be wrong, “There is no correlation in the data backing the claim that low-income counties receive lower levels of per-pupil funding.” Balfour continued:
- Poor counties receive more school funding: Out of the 20 poorest counties (as measured by per-capita income), 15 received more than the state average in total funding per student.
- The 20 poorest counties averaged total school funding of $10,000 per student – eight percent above the state average.
- Higher-income counties receive lower levels of school funding: Out of the 20 highest-income counties, only 6 received funding above the state average.
- Average per student total funding for the 20 highest-income counties was $8,954, below the state average and more than 10 percent less than the funding levels of the 20 poorest counties.
How schools are funded in North Carolina explains some of these differences. State funding accounts for about two-thirds of the average school district budget. Such a high percentage helps to minimize the variations among districts whose main source of revenue is the property tax. In addition, higher spending levels among low income districts are also tied to funding formulas designed to aid poor districts. Examples of this aid includes Federal Title I assistance and money for special education children. State formulas designed to assist low income districts include: low wealth supplemental funding, at-risk students funding, disadvantaged students supplemental funding, small county supplemental funding, and limited English proficiency funding, to name a few.
Of course, there are variations and differences among communities and some of the differences may be greater or lesser than the averages. However, to say poor children are doomed in poor schools because the schools lack resources is without basis. There is no correlation between income and spending on schools.
If anything, the new information should reveal we’re not only spending more than what people thought, but the additional resources don’t seem to be having the desired outcomes. How to improve student achievement among low income students is another topic for another time.
That said, a good start would be to stop pointing to funding as the problem. The truth paints a different picture.