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Reports & Research

August 23, 2012

Report Finds Students of Color Are Being Shortchanged — Schools Spend $191 More on White Students

The Center for American Progress unveiled a new report on Wednesday that explores the racial inequities in state and local funding that persist in our nation's schools. According to the study, called “Unequal Education” schools across the nation continue to treat students of color differently than their white peers because of a federal loophole that permits districts to spend significantly less on schools with large populations of students of color.

Though nearly 60 years ago the landmark ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education overturned the concept that “separate” education could be “equal,” today schools remain incredibly segregated. This segregation leads to significant funding inequality. The report found, for instance, that in California, segregated schools that serve almost only (90 percent) students of color, spend $191 less per pupil than all other schools, and $4,380 less than at schools serving 90 percent or more white students.

If the average high-minority California school with 759 students received its fair share in funding — an extra $4,380 for every student — the increase would total an extra $3.3 million per year. Even a more modest boost of $191 per student to bring the school’s funding in line with the majority of CA schools, would mean an extra $145,000 extra per year. Reducing this funding gap could pay the salaries of two experienced teachers or three new teachers, or buy any number of other valuable educational inputs such as computers, guidance counselors, or teaching coaches.

“The United States has the most inequitable system for funding its schools of any advanced country, and as this report shows, students of color bear the brunt of that inequity,” said Cynthia Brown, Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Our top priority must be ensuring students of color and all students receive their fair share of resources.”

The analysis of newly released nationwide data on per-student educational spending finds:

  • Across the country schools spent $334 more on every white student than on every nonwhite student.
  • Mostly white schools (90 percent or more white) spent $733 more per student than mostly nonwhite schools (90 percent or more nonwhite).
  • The United States spends $293 less per year on students in mostly nonwhite schools than on students in all other schools. That’s 7 percent of the median per-pupil spending.
  • As the number of students of color goes up at a school, the amount of money spent on students goes down: An increase of 10 percent in students of color is associated with a decrease in spending of $75 per student.
  • The so-called “comparability loophole” in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which requires school districts to provide educational services to their lower-poverty schools that are “comparable” to those provided to the higher-poverty schools, is a major source of educational inequity for both students of color and low-income students.

“Given the fact that Latino students continue to lag behind in almost every indicator of academic success, these funding inequities are simply unacceptable. We can no longer afford to continue to under-invest in students of color if we have any intention of getting out of this educational crisis,” said Erika Beltran, a senior policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza.

To address the serious implications of this funding gap, report author Ary Spatig-Amerikaner recommends gradually closing the comparability loophole—the federal policy that, in exchange for Title I money, is supposed to guard against funding inequities between schools receiving Title I funds and non-Title I schools but often fails in this regard. Under current policy, schools do not report the amount actually spent on teacher salaries at each school; instead, they are required to use the district average teacher salary when calculating school-level comparability between Title I and non-Title I schools. This major exclusion often leads school districts to think they are providing equal funding to high-poverty and low-poverty schools in accordance with Title I when, in fact, they aren’t.

Closing the comparability loophole would mean schools would accurately report overall expenditures for each school, and that local and state funding would be more fairly distributed to high-need schools. While closing the comparability loophole is not a magic bullet, equalizing intra-district per-pupil spending is a significant step toward fully honoring the intent and spirit of Brown v. Board of Education.

Click on the link below to read the report:
“Unequal Education: Federal Loophole Enables Lower Spending on Students of Color” by Ary Spatig-Amerikaner.

Source:  Center for American Progress