Power in Numbers - Cost-Adjusted Revenue, Resource Inequality, and Arbitrary Funding (EdBuild)
May 25, 2016
In its Power in Numbers series, EdBuild, a national nonprofit that works to create state school funding systems that provide equitable and adequate resources to students and their communities, focuses on the inequities brought about by convoluted state funding systems. Below are descriptions of each part of the three-part series.
The vast majority of education spending statistics are reported without adjustment for the relative cost of living across states. This makes comparisons between states difficult because almost everything related to education finance is tied to local economic conditions. Adjusting for local cost factors allows for a more accurate assessment of a state’s ability to fund schools, and of schools' ability to pay for important things, like teacher salaries.
To help put state funding and teacher salaries in context, EdBuild produced the "Power in Numbers - Cost-Adjusted Revenue" report by aggregating cost-adjusted school funding figures to state averages, and then comparing them to the nominal values usually reported in the media.
Although the responsibility to provide public education rests with each state, school funding has historically been left up to local communities. This means resources for schools are, to varying degrees, tied to local wealth and invariably leave schools in low-income communities at a disadvantage. When state courts strike down state funding systems, generally, the remedy is that the state must guarantee equal access to education by providing some form of supplemental funding to schools in poorer neighborhoods to compensate for unequal local resources. EdBuild's analysis of school district revenues (adjusted for differences in cost of living around the country) finds that, even after court-ordered equitable funding measures, the majority of states are still failing to fund students in high-poverty districts at a level equal to or higher than their less needy peers.
With its ruling in San Antonio v. Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court forfeited any responsibility to level the playing field for low-income students, and left their fates to 51 state definitions of “equity” and “opportunity." Today, there are no federal criteria for what constitutes an education, leaving each state to set its own standards and requirements. In some states, education systems must be “thorough and efficient.” In others, they must be “uniform and general.” Still others expect schools to prepare each child to participate in democracy. These different standards create a system in which your home state and community dictate the level of education to which you are entitled.
EdBuild's report shows what these definitions of "equity" and "opportunity" actually mean, highlighting the average per pupil revenue in all districts in the nation. EdBuild's numbers are adjusted for local variations in the cost of living, and are directly comparable across states and across the country. The report finds there is a significant variation in the resources each district has available for their students, and that the nation's poorest districts receive 21 percent less funding than the wealthiest districts.
EdBuild. (2016). Power in Numbers—Cost-Adjusted Revenue. Retrieved from http://viz.edbuild.org/maps/2016/cola/states/.
EdBuild. (2016). Power in Numbers—Resource Inequality. Retrieved from http://viz.edbuild.org/maps/2016/cola/resource-inequality/.
EdBuild. (2016). Power in Numbers - Arbitrary Funding. Retrieved from http://viz.edbuild.org/maps/2016/cola/arbitrary/text.html.