School Funding in Most States is Unfair: Inequitable Funding Systems Shortchanging Nation’s Students

Newark, NJ, June 8, 2015 — Public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, shortchanging the nation’s 49 million public school students, especially those living in poverty, out of the educational opportunities they need to succeed. Despite an economic rebound, states have been slow to restore the cuts to K-12 education triggered by the 2007 downturn, and school funding remains below pre-recession levels in many states.

There are wide disparities in the amount spent on public education across the country, from a high of $18,507 per pupil in New York, to a low of $6,369 in Idaho. In addition, most states do not systemically provide additional funding to low-income districts, depriving at-risk students of the resources and supports essential for academic success.

These are among the key findings from the 4th Edition of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card released by Education Law Center (ELC). The Report Card is the most sophisticated comparative analysis of public school finance in the United States, examining the level and distribution of school funding within each state in relation to student need.The 4th Edition is based on funding data from 2007 through 2012.

ELC is releasing the Report Card along with a report by the Washington, D.C.- based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ Education Fund, which documents the lack of educational resources in four states with unfair school funding. The Leadership Conference report – Cheating our Future: How Decades of Disinvestment by States Continues to Jeopardize Equal Educational Opportunity – provides compelling evidence of the impact of unfair funding and the resulting deprivation of educational opportunities for students in Colorado, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

Unlike in other nations, public education in the United States is a state responsibility, and state finance systems account for approximately 90% of all school funding. The Report Card shows that the various methods employed by most states to finance education are not designed to deliver fair, equitable funding to their public schools.

The Report Card’s findings include the following:

  • Fourteen states have "regressive" school funding. These states, which include Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of poor students.
  • Nevada’s school funding system is the nation’s most regressive. Nevada provides students in poor districts only half of what students in low poverty districts receive.
  • Nineteen states have "flat" school funding systems. These states, which include California, Florida, Colorado, and Washington, fail to provide any appreciable increase in funding to address the needs of students in high poverty districts.
  • While four states – Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Carolina – do provide modestly higher funding to high poverty districts, the overall level of funding in these states is so insufficient as to rank them among the lowest in the nation.
  • Only Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Delaware have fair school funding systems. These states have a sufficient overall level of funding and provide significantly higher amounts of funding to high poverty school districts.
  • Many states with unfair school funding systems rank low on "effort." These states, which include Nevada, Arizona, California, and Oregon, allocate a very low percentage of their states’ economic capacity, or gross state product (GSP), to fund public education.

"Public school funding in far too many states remains unfair, irrational and unconnected to the resources students must have to succeed," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and Report Card co-author. "These states’ failure to provide fair school funding strikes hardest at the over 11 million poor, school-aged children across the United States."

The Report Card also shows how unfair school funding affects the availability of essential education resources in the states. For example, average teacher salaries in most states are below those of their non-teacher counterparts, preschool enrollment among poor children lags well behind their more affluent peers in nearly all states, and few states maintain greater staffing levels in the high poverty districts that need the additional support.

"There is a direct link between school funding and essential resources," said Rutgers Professor and Report co-author, Bruce Baker, a noted school finance expert. "These latest findings show a lack of access to preschool, higher pupil-to-teacher ratios and uncompetitive wages for teachers in those states with unfair and inadequate school funding."

"As we prepared this edition of the National Report Card, we were disheartened to learn that school funding is still lagging despite the economic recovery," said Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director and Report co-author. "While not restoring funding to pre-Recession levels, states are adopting Common Core standards and assessments and imposing other new mandates that increase costs and put further stress on local education budgets."

“It’s clear and unequivocal that states and school districts across the country are cheating their futures by failing to invest in their own children. It’s both a moral and economic imperative that our nation dramatically change the way it distributes educational resources to advance true equity in America’s classrooms,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference.


"Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card" is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC); and Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director.

To download the full report, view an interactive report, and learn more about each state's public school funding, please click here.