School Funding Remains Unfair For Most Students Across The Nation

Contact: Afsheen A. Shamsi
Telephone Number: 848-932-0619; 914-217-0983
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Newark, NJ, January 25, 2017 – Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card (NRC), released by Education Law Center (ELC) today, finds that public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, depriving millions of U.S. students of the opportunity for success in school.

The sixth edition of the NRC uses data from the 2014 Census fiscal survey, the most recent available. The NRC goes beyond raw per-pupil calculations to evaluate whether states are making sufficient investments in public education and distributing funding relative to need, as measured by student poverty. To capture the variation across states, the NRC uses four interrelated “fairness measures” – Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort and Coverage – that allow for state-by-state comparisons while controlling for regional cost differences.

The NRC released today shows almost no improvement since the end of the Great Recession in those states that do not provide additional funding to districts with high student poverty. There is also no change in the vast differences in levels of funding for K-12 education across the states, even after adjusting for cost. The states with the highest funding levels, New York and New Jersey, spend more than two and one-half times that of the lowest, Utah and Idaho.

Key findings include:

  •  Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,165 per pupil in New York, to a low of $5,838 in Idaho.
  • Many states with low funding levels, such as California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, are also low “effort” states, that is, they invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems.
  • Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, and Illinois, have “regressive” school funding. These states provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of need as measured by student poverty.
  • Students in certain regions of the country face a “double disadvantage” because their states have low funding levels and do not increase funding for concentrated student poverty. These “flat” funding states include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest.
  • Only a handful of states – Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey – have “progressive” school funding. These states have sufficiently high funding levels and significantly boost funding in their high poverty districts.
  • States with unfair school funding perform poorly on key indicators of resources essential for educational opportunity. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably high.

The sixth edition of the NRC released today underscores the persistence of unfair school funding as a major obstacle to improving quality and outcomes in the nation’s public schools. Most states finance public education purely on political considerations from year-to-year, and not on assessments of the actual cost of delivering rigorous academic standards to all students.

Most states also continue to use outmoded methods of funding public education that fail to allocate additional funding to address concentrated poverty and other risk factors, including English language proficiency and disabilities. These antiquated methods are the cause of persistent funding disparities between low wealth, high poverty and high wealth, low poverty districts, even in states with high funding levels, such as Connecticut and New York.

“School finance reform is long overdue,” said Bruce Baker, the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education Professor who developed the report’s methodology. “States must develop, and then fund, school finance formulas that identify the costs of providing essential education resources to students, accounting for diverse student needs and taking into account local fiscal capacity.”

“Lawmakers in states with deeply regressive and flat funding, like Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Arizona, urgently need to overhaul their finance systems to give students a meaningful opportunity to succeed in school,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “Even states with higher funding levels, such as Ohio and Maine, need to do more to ensure fair funding for each and every student.”

“President Trump is flatly wrong when he says our schools are flush with cash,” Mr. Sciarra added. “In fact, for students in many states and entire regions, their schools are woefully underfunded, depriving them of the qualified teachers, support staff, reasonable class sizes and other interventions they must have to succeed in school. It’s time to put fair school funding at the top of the nation’s education reform agenda.”


With this year’s NRC release, we introduce the School Funding Fairness Data System. There is now public access to three large data sets on public elementary and secondary schools, districts and states, covering a 20-year period. Resource information from Civil Rights Data Collections on school level resources has been compiled for the vast majority of public elementary and secondary schools from 2011-12 and 2013-14.

Researchers, policy advocates and policymakers are welcome to take advantage of these data resources.

This is a first step in publishing more comprehensive information on trends in school funding, access and resource equity, adequacy and equal educational opportunity. In the coming months, we will provide additional resources based on these data sources, adding newly compiled data and supplementing existing data sets as additional years of data become available.

Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card is coauthored by Dr. Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center (ELC); Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director; Monete Johnson, ELC Research Associate; and Theresa Luhm, Esq., ELC Managing Director. Please visit

Contact: Sharon Krengel, 973-624-1815, x24;; Education Law Center