WASHINGTON ― Monday June 8, two civil rights and education organizations released major reports documenting the massive resource disparities in public schools nationwide.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund released its new report on resource inequity in public schools across the nation. The Education Law Center released its fourth National Report Card on how the states fund public education.
Cheating our Future: How Decades of Disinvestment by States Jeopardizes Equal Educational Opportunity examines in-depth how a lack of resources helps to create vastly unequal education opportunities, even for students within the same state. It profiles schools in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Colorado, and South Carolina and vividly presents the types of inequities students and educators face every day.
The report follows the work of the Equity and Excellence Commission created by an act of Congress and appointed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The report is from The Leadership Conference Education Fund, a nonprofit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., which is the sister organization of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“States across the country are systematically underfunding the schools most attended by students of color,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights organizations. “Knowingly denying vulnerable students access to the most basic resources—AP classes, up-to-date technology, expanded learning time, or basic facilities—is a moral failure that cheats these communities out of their futures.”
In addition, the Newark, N.J.-based ELC released its fourth national report card on the 50 states’ school finance systems, Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card, showing that most states still don’t provide equitable resources for the millions of students attending schools in high poverty districts. These students are the most vulnerable and need additional resources and supports because their educations are at risk.
“The continuing failure of the states to provide fair, equitable funding for public school children, especially those in poor communities, is nothing short of a national disgrace,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and leading lawyer in the fight for education rights across the country. “We know that unfair school funding deprives students of teachers and resources crucial to the delivery of equal educational opportunity and, tragically, is a main reason why the United States has been unable to make real progress in improving student outcomes.”
“It’s time for a national campaign for school finance reform to ensure states provide the resources students need to meet 21st century academic goals,” Sciarra added.
Providing equity in school resources is especially important now that most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards or their own versions of higher academic standards that require schools strive to prepare all students for college or career training.
Among the findings in Cheating our Future:
Many students especially in rural and urban areas vividly lack the same access as their peers in better-funded school systems to the same academic courses, before- and after-school programs, extracurricular activities, school facilities, well-qualified teachers and principals, transportation to and from school, and more.
In Pennsylvania, one of four states highlighted in the report, students in Philadelphia lack adequate special education services, career and technology courses, access to the arts and technology, and additional support systems that could provide a better education for students in low-wealth neighborhoods.
In Mississippi, the state’s failure to follow its own required levels of education funding are resulting in dire situations in some rural districts. Some schools cannot afford Advanced Placement courses, to repair dilapidated schools or provide adequate technology for students. Voters could require the state legislature to fix the problem in a statewide ballot initiative in November.
In Colorado, rural school districts that sued the state demanding more adequate funding lost their case on appeal. But even state leaders who disagreed with the lawsuit admit school funding is a mess—and many rural school systems in remote parts of the state are nearly bankrupt.
In South Carolina, after the state Supreme Court sided with rural school systems in a court case that dragged on for 20 years, lawmakers are struggling to decide how to improve funding. The small-town Dillon, S.C. district cannot offer all the pre-K classes its community needs or many other services that districts in wealthier parts of the state consider routine.
Among the findings in this edition of ELC’s new edition of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card:
Fourteen states have “regressive” school funding. These states, which include Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of poor students.
Nevada’s school funding system is the nation’s most regressive. Nevada provides students in poor districts only half of what students in low poverty districts receive.
Nineteen states have “flat” school funding systems. These states, which include California, Florida, Colorado, and Washington, fail to provide any appreciable increase in funding to address the needs of students in high poverty districts.
While four states – Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Carolina – do provide modestly higher funding to high poverty districts, the overall level of funding in these states is so insufficient as to rank them among the lowest in the nation.
Only Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Delaware have fair school funding systems. These states have a sufficient overall level of funding and provide significantly higher amounts of funding to high poverty school districts.
Many states with unfair school funding systems rank low on “effort.” These states, which include Nevada, Arizona, California, and Oregon, allocate a very low percentage of their states’ economic capacity, or gross state product (GSP), to fund public education.