"...Public school funding in the United States comes from federal, state, and local sources, but because nearly half of those funds come from local property taxes, the system generates large funding differences between wealthy and impoverished communities. Such differences exist among states, among school districts within each state, and even among schools within specific districts.
In 1998, for example, the state with the highest average level of public school funding (adjusted for differences in cost of living) was New Jersey, with an annual funding rate of $8,801 per student, whereas the state with the lowest average level was Utah, with a yearly rate of $3,804 per student (see fig. 1). This means that the typical student attending a public school in New Jersey was provided more than twice the fiscal resources allocated to his or her counterpart in Utah.
Disparities in per-student funding levels are actually greater within some states than among the states as a group. To illustrate, in 1998, public school districts in Alaska that were ranked at the 95th percentile for per-student funding received an average of $16,546 per student for the year, whereas school districts ranked at the 5th percentile received only $7,379 on average. Other “winners” in the inequality derby included Vermont (where school districts at the 95th and 5th percentiles received an average of $15,186 and $6,442, respectively), Illinois (where the figures were $11,507 and $5,260), New Jersey ($13,709 and $8,401), New York ($13,749 and $8,518), and Montana ($9,839 and $4,774).
In contrast, differences in funding were quite small in such states as Nevada (where better-funded and not-so-well-funded districts received an average of $6,933 and $5,843, respectively, for each student), as well as in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., each of which is served by only one large school district (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998).
Nor is the practice of inequitable public school funding confined to the district level. Schools within a given district or classrooms within a specific school may also experience massive differences in funding (Rothstein, 2000). Such inequities appear because the needs of disadvantaged students are less often heeded in debates about programs, facilities, and funding allocation in local venues.
From the preceding data we learn that a few students from wealthy communities or neighborhoods within generous states attend public schools with funding of $15,000 or more per student per year, whereas some students from poor communities or neighborhoods within stingy or impoverished states attend schools that must make do with less than $4,000 per student per year.
What proportion of students attend well-funded and poorly funded schools? We can get some idea by looking at the school districts that report various levels of per-student funding. Figure 2 on page 54 provides this information for the 7,206 districts that enrolled 1,000 or more students in 1995. Of these districts, 1,425 (or 20 percent) received less than $5,000 in 1995, and 451 (or 6 percent) provided $10,000 or more per student (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998).
Other data show that communities where student poverty is rare tend to have well-funded schools, whereas schools in communities where student poverty is rampant tend to receive much less funding. Figure 3 on page 57 shows the relationship between funding and student poverty rates for school districts with enrollments of more than 1,000. Districts reporting higher levels of funding are more likely to be located in communities where student poverty is minimal, whereas those reporting lower levels of funding are more often located in communities where student poverty is sizable (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000b)............
Bearing these cautions in mind, can we locate strong studies, and if so, what have those studies found? Indeed, we can find such studies (see, for example, Biddle, 1997; Dolan & Schmidt, 1987; Ellinger, Wright, & Hirlinger, 1995; Elliott, 1998; Ferguson, 1991; Harter, 1999; Payne & Biddle, 1999; Wenglinsky, 1997a, 1997b). Although we do not list all of them here, the examples we cite will indicate typical findings. As a rule, such studies report that level of funding is tied to sizable net effects for student outcome.
To illustrate, a study of 11th grade achievement scores among school districts in Oklahoma found that both student poverty and per-student revenues within schools were associated with achievement. Effects for the former were roughly twice the size of those for the latter (Ellinger et al., 1995). Similar results were found for the determinants of 8th grade achievement scores among school districts from across the United States that participated in the Second International Study of Mathematics Achievement (Payne & Biddle, 1999). And Harold Wenglinsky (1997a), using data drawn from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found that average student socioeconomic status and per-student expenditures within school districts were both associated with level of mathematics achievement in the 8th grade, but that the effects for socioeconomic status were again larger than those for per-student expenditures.
Collectively, these studies have employed various techniques designed to rule out alternative hypotheses, and all of them have concluded that funding has substantial effects, although level of advantage in the home and community has an even greater impact....."
Educational Leadership:Beyond Instructional Leadership:Unequal School Funding in the United States