The Tie Between Funding and Achievement Gaps

Two recent U.S. Department of Education reports point out the continuing gaps in education for Latino and low-income students.

Achievement Gaps,” from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), showed that Latino students continue to lag behind white students in math and reading by about two grade levels – a rate virtually unchanged since the 1990s.

Similarly, data released by the Office of Civil Rights, showed that significant disparities still exist between low-income and more affluent school districts. Among the findings, 3,000 schools do not offer Algebra 2 classes, schools with a mostly African-American student body were more likely have teachers with one or two years of experience than schools serving white students.

That brings me to the bottom line — and a new brief released by the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization.

In “The Still be Dragons: Racial Disparity in School Funding is No Joke,” researchers seek to debunk the idea that public education funding is equitable across racial lines. To the contrary, the authors point out, “the student poverty rate tends to increase, on average, with the percentage of African American, Hispanic, or Native American students in a district while it tends to decrease with the percentage of white or Asian students.” And, since school serving low-income students are often poorly funded, the result is a racial disparity in funding.

The brief focuses on non-federal funding, which researchers say holds the greatest disparity, and includes a table breaking down funding levels by state.

Some states, including California, Colorado,Florida, and Idaho, distribute funding fairly equitably; while Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania spend less on black and Hispanic students than on white students.

For education reporters examining achievement gaps in their districts, the brief provides a good jumping-off point for a key question: how does achievement correlate with funding?

Look at the schools with low scores or those that lack resources, then compare their funding with higher-achieving or better-equipped schools. Is there a difference in funding? In demographics? In student income levels?

A good place to start is this searchable database created by ProPublica, using the data from the Office of Civil Rights.

In addition to writing about schools falling short, try to find schools that are closing the gap. Looking at what those districts do right can make a meaningful story.

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