Funding Disparities

There are large disparities in the amount of funding that schools receive which create differences in educational opportunity. The funding disparities can be broken down into three main areas:

Interstate disparity: School funding inequities among different states

There are significant differences in education funding across different states. For example, in the 2009-10 school year, New Jersey spent $17,379 per student while Utah spent only $6,452 per student. Even when adjusted for regional variations in costs, large disparities between states exist. The disparity is caused by a number of factors, including: (1) capacity - how well off a state is based on their economy and resources, and (2) effort - the states willingness to provide funding for education. Wealthier states with a high fiscal capacity, (typically those in the Northeast), have more funding available to spend on education than states with more limited resources (typically those in the South and the West). Additionally, some states spend more of their total available funding on education. Montana, for example, is a low fiscal capacity, but high fiscal effort state.

Intrastate disparity: School funding inequities within a particular state

There are large differences in funding among school districts within the same state. Some districts spend significantly more on education than other school districts even if they are within the same state, and sometimes only a few miles apart. For example, in Illinois, the New Trier Township High School District spent $21,465 per student in 2009-10 while the Farmington Central Community Unit School District spent only $7,259 per student. When school districts rely on the local property tax as their primary source of funding, schools located in wealthier districts have more resources to draw from than schools in low-income communities.

The federal government established a standardized measure, called the "School Funding Equity Factor, as part of Title I that measures school finance equity among districts in a state. Click here for a detailed graph that shows how states rank in school finance equity based on the federal standard.

Intradistrict disparity: School funding inequities among schools within the same district

Even within a single school district, the amount of funding that individual schools receive can differ significantly. For small school districts this is not usually an issue, but in large school districts that operate many schools, intradistrict disparities can be significant. Until recently, resource allocation at the individual school level has been largely ignored, partly due to a lack of transparency and understanding of the budget process at the local level. Recent research suggests that resources are not evenly distributed among schools in a school district and that some schools, often those that serve students with greater needs, receive less resources. A large portion of the disparity is related to the allocation of teachers. Higher-paid, more experienced teachers tend to be congregated in lower-needs schools, while less-experienced teachers end up in high-needs schools. In many school districts disparity in teacher pay does not factor in the way in which funding distributions are calculated. A handful of notable school districts, however, including New York City, are recalculating the way they allocate funding to schools.