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5 Quick Facts You Should Know About Poverty and School Funding

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The current U.S. economy continues to improve, but there is one area that is still feeling the squeeze from the recession years: K-12 public school spending. In 2013, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 34 states are contributing less funding on a per student basis than they did prior to the recession years. Since states are responsible for 44 percent of total education funding in the U.S., these dismal numbers mean a continued crack down on school budgets despite an improving economy.  In extreme cases, like in Philadelphia and Chicago, individual districts have had to tap into other money and reserves to cover the basics of public education in their areas.

These budget cuts have hit low-income schools the hardest. Here are five facts you should know about how the decrease in funding has affected low-income schools.

1. Funding to low-income Title I schools has decreased since 2010. A number of states have cut pre-K educational per student funding in recent years and many have even had to reduce enrollment numbers.

2. Overall, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that districts collected just over 2 percent lower on property taxes ending in March 2013 than in the year before.

As we know, property taxes pay much of public education costs. While states have been cut throat in reducing spending, they have not been as vigilant in raising revenue sources through taxes and fees. This makes a dire problem even worse.

3. In 23 states, state and local governments together spend less per student in the poorest districts than those that are more affluent, according to 2012 federal data and reported in The Washington Post.

The differences in funding are severe in some states. Pennsylvania spends 33 percent less on the poorest school districts per-pupil than on the wealthiest. In Missouri, the differential is 17 percent.

Across the United States, states and localities spend 15 percent less on average per pupil in the poorest districts than in the most affluent, according to the Washington Post.

4. Poverty makes it more difficult for children to succeed in school. These students tend to have more needs than their middle-class and well-off peers. Consider that children from poor families also are behind their counterparts on nearly every measure of academic achievement. Then look even deeper and note that children living in poverty often come to school without having had enough sleep, and without having had breakfast. They often experience family violence, abuse, secondhand smoke, neglect, poor clothing and shoes. Even though they have limited experiences in the world, they may not be able to pay for field trips and cannot pay for extracurricular activities of any kind, which could actually expand their experience base.  This is the frightening reality for millions of children, and teachers are very likely to have impoverished students in their class.

5. Less state spending on education certainly affects the learning experience but it also impacts other areas of the economy. Unemployed teachers and administrators have less to pump back into the economy and the viscous cycle of K-12 underfunding is furthered. 

While unemployment is a factor in poverty for some, there are many who are employed and still live below the poverty line. A higher level of education is needed for high paying jobs that can support a family.  It is difficult to support a family with a minimum wage job, even when working full-time.  The conundrum is furthered when school funding is diminishing--removing one more source of hope for ending the cycle.

If we cannot fully fund our public schools how can we expect things like the achievement gap to close or high school graduation rates to rise? It was understandable that budgets had to be slashed when the bottom dropped out of the economy but now that we are in a more stable place, it is time to get back to funding what matters most: the education of our K-12 students.

How do you think we can address the intersecting issues of poverty and school funding in our public school system?

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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