Report: To close achievement gap, fund schools by need, not ZIP code
A new report calls for school districts to be funded according to need -- not by ZIP code.
February 19th, 2013
06:54 PM ET

Report: To close achievement gap, fund schools by need, not ZIP code

By Sally Holland, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Changing the way schools are funded would help to close the achievement gap between students who live in affluent neighborhoods and those in high poverty areas, according to a report released Tuesday by a congressionally-mandated education committee.

"There is disagreement about exactly how to change the system, but there is complete agreement that achieving equity and excellence requires sufficient resources that are distributed based on student need and that are efficiently used," says "For Each and Every Child," a report by the Equity and Excellence Commission.

A primary source of funding for public schools is local property taxes. The problem: If the school is in a high poverty area, the property taxes tend to be low, and that means less money for the school, and less money to pay teachers.

“Whether a state uses property taxes or not is no excuse for the responsibility a state has to deliver more equitable financing,” said Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, co-chairman of the commission and a professor at Stanford Law School.

The report cites spending disparities as wide as $7,306 per pupil in Tennessee to $19,520 in Wyoming, with adjustment for student poverty, regional wage variation, school district size and density. There are disparities across districts, too - excluding the top 5% of districts in California, spending ranged from $6,032 to $18,025 per pupil there in 2009.

“In far too many communities, the children who need the most help get the least -  get the least experienced, the least qualified. There are very few incentives to bring our greatest talent to where it’s needed the most,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on a conference call Tuesday.

The 52-page report includes a long list of finance recommendations for the federal government, including directing states to adopt new school finance systems, offering incentives to states who find ways to reduce the number of schools with concentrated poverty and enacting legislation that puts "significant new federal funds" to schools with high populations of low-income students.

"There is no constitutional barrier to a greater federal role in financing K-12 education," the report says. "It is, rather, a question of our nation’s civic and political will; the modest federal contribution that today amounts to approximately 10% of national K-12 spending is a matter of custom, not a mandate."

“Low-income and English-language-learner students bring unique educational challenges that the average middle-class student does not. To afford these children the same level of education, it requires more resources for them to enable equal opportunity, ” said Rep. Mike Honda, D-California, who pushed for the commission to be formed in 2008.

The report recommends increasing the selectivity of teacher hires and holding training programs accountable for producing effective teachers; creating grants for schools to increase parent engagement; extending learning times. It devotes a section to a hot topic since President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech last week: early childhood education.

The report calls for funding that will provide all low-income children access to early learning within 10 years.

“If we are serious about closing what I call the 'opportunity gap,' it has to start with high-quality early-learning opportunities in disadvantaged communities that have been denied for too long,” Duncan said.

CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Arne Duncan • Politics • School funding
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. franklovesfl

    Dear Governmental stooges:You simply don't understand the impact of what you say or do. People in rich neighborhoods allow high taxes on their property because their money will go to their children s schools. Ship their money out of town,and they will vote down property taxes.

    Wake up.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • veracious

      Where I live (suburban NJ), "rich" kids are in private schools not public schools!

      The spending per pupil in "weathy" communities is half the spending per pupil than in the poorest communities. Weathy parents don't put more money into public education, they support their private schools. The minimum investment in public education is made to ensure that middle class kids in their communities perform well enough to keep the schools ranked well.

      I really don't understand why people seem to think that families that can afford educational choices would choose public education! Public education is for the middle class, immigrants, poor and disabled. It is not the eduational choice of the upper middle class and wealthy.

      In a recent ranking of public schools in NJ Monthly, the better funded "poor" schools are outperforming many middle class schools because they have resources that the middle class is funding for the poor but can't afford for their own children.

      February 28, 2013 at 6:14 am |
  2. Nate

    Louisville Ky in the 70's. Forced busing to integrate schools. Millions spent upgrading schools..... Completely trashed in a few years.

    Face it, the key is parenting. Involved parents who care are a must. You can succeed in a one room school with involved parents. But sports are more important to many.. Until it is time to find a job, funny not many jobs require basketball skills.

    February 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  3. Jomanns

    Wrong wrong wrong. Baltimore city spends $14,302 per pupil. Prince George's county $13246. Worst performing schools in state. Higher performing district Frederick spends $11,727 and Carroll County $11,671. Throwing money at the schools doesn't work. Children and parents need to value education. These statistics prove out all over the country's

    February 24, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  4. Lambo8245

    I can't believe it took so long for them to figure this out, it has seemed pretty obvious for years. Schools should be funded solely on the number of students they teach at the public level. All property tax revenue should go to the state who will distribute it evenly. The rich public schools won't lose much because their students are so affluent that private donations and fund raisers will close the gap on what they would lose on funding schools this way.

    February 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  5. Beefburger

    Everyone should make note of the Philippines. In the Philippines, there are MANY households without fathers, as many of those fathers are usually working outside of their province or even the country to provide for their families. Yet these children who live in an entire nation that most of us would consider "a poor neighborhood" strive ardently for good grades, surpassing the U.S. by far with a 97% education rate, and are extremely well behaved. Why is this? These are the ones taking those pharmacology jobs (see earlier comments below) that U.S. kids don't seem to want.

    February 22, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • Beefburger

      *sidenote Filipinos don't get the advantage of a free education system. Families have to pay for each child's classes and for each test. The child fails a test they have to pay again to retest. You have it SOOOO hard here in the U.S., pack of whiners.

      February 22, 2013 at 6:48 am |
    • Beefburger

      Filipino teachers would be considered rich if they took jobs here in the U.S. In fact they have attempted to recruit them numerous times. But they refuse to come here because of these demon children in our schools. That says a lot I think.

      February 22, 2013 at 7:05 am |
  6. Beefburger

    How much in extra resources are being wasted on illegal immigrants? How much do the illegal immigrants with extra resources required above and beyond a legal resident for such programs as ESL? Why is it the responsibility of citizen property owners/taxpayers to pay for education programs that the illigal immigrants would not recieve in their native lands? I FULLY AGREE WITH MEXICO'S LAWS INVOLVING ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, WE SHOULD FULLY COPY THEIR BRILLIANT POLICIES!

    February 22, 2013 at 6:14 am |
  7. Tex from Virginia

    I hate to break it to you folks, but throwing money at a failing school will not change a darn thing. These pc blinders need to come off, there is an incredible lack of parenting coming from the black community. Enough is enough, its time to hold these parents criminally and financialy acountable for the actions of their fatherless neglected children. We can no longer "lower the bar" because of some perceived notion of injustice, we must strive to cultivate the best and brightest of every race.

    February 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Carolinian

      How can you say we must strive to cultivate the best and brightest in every race, after making a racist comment about black people. Come on, really? There are fatherless children in all races, poor parenting across the globe. I am not surprised by your ignorant rant, but rather stunned at the fact that you actually believe what you stated. Hypocrisy does not discriminate.

      February 20, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
      • Miamian

        Thank you Carolinian for reprimanding Tex. It is sad that automatically Tex assumes that all poverty stricken areas are African American. The bigotry that spews from his/her comments is unfortunately believed by many Caucasian people that everyone, poor, or on welfare or in any negative situation is a Black person. That simply is not so. Failng schools are not always so because of lack of parental involvement.

        February 21, 2013 at 9:47 am |
      • Tex from Virginia

        How is it racist to point out that black children are more likely to grow up in a house with out a father. No where in my "rant" did I exclude the possibility that other races have the same issues.

        February 21, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Cinnamon

      are you serious?? lack of parenting coming from black parents?! That's hilarious considering that a large majority of white parents don't even parent at all. They let the tube do all the work, lazy, rich and spoiled

      February 24, 2013 at 2:48 am |
  8. Teila k. Day

    The gap in achievement the exists between the affluent and poor demographic is not an issue of funding. Not even close. The gap darn sure has nothing to do with "arts" programs either. The gap soley exists because there is little incentive to study subjects that are perceived as a waste of time by the student.

    I like what i call "Teila's reality test" If poor 'F-students' received $1,000,000 tax-free-cash, for each regular class (meaning not AP and but not basic either) they got a "B" in for the semester, you'd see a rise in poor kids making the honor roll. You'd have parents of poor kids having a vested interest all the sudden in their kid's education. Additionally, public housing and assistance should be tethered to performance! So you have 3 kids in high school who can't read, have a 1.2GPA and 20 unexcused absences? Fine- you're kicked out of public housing permanently and you receive no more public assistance permanently.

    But that would be tackling a large part of the problem instead of punting politics back and forth for decades while not doing squat about the problem. You can't give kids a $mil for good grades, but you can cutt out the BS classes and provide professional training. Image the possibilities for a kid who's had 4 years of pharmacology training in high school... The kid could be a PharmD making $80k per annum instead of working some $17hr crap job.

    February 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Beefburger

      $17hr "crap job". Seriously? Do you really think pharmacology positions would be paying $80k if they were doling out the education for free? If every student were trained to be a neurosurgeon there would be many very cheaply paid neurosurgeons and a LOT more overeducated burger flippers. The U.S. society is based on the DESIRE TO SUCCEED. Everything is targeted to weed out the weak. From little input of career training in public education to the drunken debauchery of university life. ASPIRE TO GREATNESS OR GET OVER IT.

      February 22, 2013 at 6:26 am |
    • Beefburger

      As an addendum to the pharmacology example, you would have many more pharmacologists, yes, but how many people are the ones that passed with a 2.5 GPA going to kill? It reminds me of the 'joke' "Q: You know what you call the person who graduates med school with the lowest GPA? A: DOCTOR".

      February 22, 2013 at 6:35 am |
  9. veracious

    I really can't understand why anyone thinks that "closing the achievement gap" is a worthy goal. In essence this means narrowing the normal distribution of the population (i.e. pushing the tails of the distribution towards the middle).

    Why would anyone think it is preferable to narrow the distribution rather than maintaining the distribution but moving the entire population and range of abilities to a higher level? Do we as a country no longer accept that there is diversity within any population?

    February 20, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Mike

      Just because we want to narrow the gap doesn't mean we want the smart kids a little dumber and the dumb gets a little smarter(you can subsitute dumb/smart with poor/rich if you want). By making the dumb kids smarter and leaving the smart kids smart we're still narrowing the gap.

      February 20, 2013 at 10:37 am |
      • veracious

        When states are telling local districts to close the gap between one group of students with significant abilities and another group of students with significant barriers to learning along with targets for lower and higher achievement, this is exactly the interpretation being applied. In theory, it sounds good but just look at growth data for outlying students locally, state level or nationally and my analysis is the reality.

        February 20, 2013 at 11:48 am |
      • veracious

        And Mike, btw what I see behind this effort is a policy to get the poor and disabled less dependent on public assistance while ensuring the middle class does not have the means to compete with the wealthy. Weathy kids are not in our public schools.

        February 21, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  10. Lorraine Richardson

    “In far too many communities, the children who need the most help get the least"

    The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It's as American as apple pie.

    February 20, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Tex from Virginia

      You cannot help those that refuse to help themselves. Lack of adequate black role models is a major issue, but blaming everyone else is easier.

      February 20, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
      • Miamian

        Tex from Virginia, why are you so determined to portray that the story is only about Black people?

        February 21, 2013 at 9:51 am |
      • Tex from Virginia

        @miamian- Why are you so determined to ignore the obvious problems that exist? Your assuming because I only gave one example that my views are racist. Its quite the opposite, by stating reality (statisticly black children are more likely to be raised in a single parent household) I am bringing to the forefront issues that are not talked about because they are considered "racist." I apologize if the truth offends you, but ignoring the issue has not made a single ounce of difference. I would not stand for white people ignoring the problems in trailer parks, just as I will not stand for ignoring the problems in the innercity neighborhoods. If you force equality, then is it really equal?

        February 21, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  11. Rithik

    I think that the state or county should fund its public schools, because it's not fair for different schools to recieve different levels of education just because of the area they're located. Some peeople just can't afford for their kids to go to a higher quality school, or don't live near one. Property taxes shouldn't be the main source of income.

    February 19, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • Jerrie

      Washington State comes close. Basic education is (in theory) funded at the state level, while districts can raise local levy funds for "extras". The state does have a formula for capping local levy funding – but wealthy districts find a way to pay for the programs they want. Plus the state supreme court has decreed the state is failing to fund basic education. That is true. Local levy funds that used to pay for things like arts programs are now covering things like building maintenance and teacher salaries.

      February 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm |