After failing at funding the neediest students, 22 states get an “F”

Title I represents less than 2% of the $764 billion spent on public education annually, according to a new report
By: | October 28, 2021

Nearly half of U.S. states received an “F” in a new analysis that finds millions of students lack essential resources for learning and wellbeing, with high-poverty schools bearing the brunt of the inequities.

To close vast budget gaps among and within states, the federal government should use funding as a level to force states to spend more on schools, says the “Making the Grade” report released by the Education Law Center Thursday.

“The underfunding of schools is not, as some policymakers would like the public to believe, an unfortunate reality of budget constraints,” David Sciarra, the Law Center’s executive director and report co-author. “Rather, it is the result of inaction and even outright hostility from state governors and legislators to invest in the education of their students.”

In many states, particularly across the South and West, per-pupil funding lags behind the national average by thousands of dollars. And even where per-pupil funding is above average,  students in high-poverty schools are not receiving their fair share, the analysis finds.

The analysis evaluated states on three measures of fairness:

1. Funding Level: Measures the combined state and local revenues provided to school districts, adjusted for regional cost differences.

*Funding level varies dramatically across states, from $9,717 per pupil in Arizona to $26,634 per pupil in New York.

2. Funding Distribution: Measures the allocation of funds to school districts relative to the concentration of students from low-income families.

*There is also wide variation here, with Nevada providing 32% less, and Utah and Alaska each providing 57% more per pupil to high-poverty districts than to low-poverty districts.

3. Funding Effort: measures investment in the K-12 public education system as a percentage of a state’s economic productivity.

*High-effort, high-capacity states, such as New Jersey, New York and Wyoming, generate above-average funding, while low-capacity, low-effort states, such as Arizona, Florida and North Carolina, have the financial resources to bring their below-average funding in line with the national average.

The analysis gave 22 states an “F” on at least one of these aspects of funding. Wyoming was the only state to receive “As” on all three measures. Some states, such as Connecticut, Illinois and Maine, received As on funding levels and effort, and Fs on distribution.

While Title I is a key tool for supporting districts with large percentages of students from low-income families, it accounts for less than 2% of the $764 billion spent on public education annually. Expanding Title I funding would cover gaps in state support for their poorest schools, the report says.

“This year’s report makes clear that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the condition of school funding in many states was bleak,” said Research Director and report co-author Danielle Farrie. “While the obligation to fully invest in public education rests primarily with the states, it is time for the federal government to use the tools in its toolbox to incentivize fair and equitable school funding across the country.”

The report highlighted California as a recent success story. The state increased funding by $18 billion for low-income students, English learners, and homeless and foster students. Between 2013 and 2019, its funding level rank rose from 47th to 30th, and its funding distribution rank went from 21st to 8th most progressive, the report says.