Working Class Schools Are Underfunded

January 29, 2006

A comprehensive study of public school finances shows that most states spend dramatically less money on the education of children from poor and minority communities than children living in richer districts.

The study, recently published by the Education Trust, found that across the country, state and local governments spend an average of $907/student less in the highest-poverty districts then in the lowest-poverty districts. In many states the gap is even higher. Illinois, for example, spends $2,065/pupil less in poor districts than rich ones; in New York the figure is $2,280 less. In many states this gap amounts to 20%-50% of the average per pupil spending. Education Trust's study also found that this spending gap has been increasing over the years.

This "per pupil" gap must be multiplied by the number of students in an individual classroom or school to see how drastically some schools are underfunded. For a class of 25 students, a gap of $2,000/pupil equals $50,000/year (the salary of another teacher); for a high school of 1,500, a $2,000/pupil gap means $3 million/year (the salaries of about 60 teachers).

Still more, several initial studies by the Education Trust and other groups indicate that even within the poorer districts there is a dramatic funding gap between schools in the poorest neighborhoods and those in better-off communities.

Across the country many struggles are developing to fight for equality in educational funding. In some states, the people have pushed through laws forcing state governments to increase spending in poor districts. In Massachusetts, for example, a 1993 law required the state to increase school funding by 12%/year with the new money targeted to schools attended by poorer students. Last year, 4th and 8th graders in Massachusetts out-performed students in every other state in both reading and math according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress; the percentage of Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders performing at grade level has more than doubled since 1992.

By depriving working class and minority schools of equal funding, the government is denying one of our most elementary rights. And the general push by the Republicans and Democrats is to increase the funding gap. In opposition, the people must develop even more powerful struggles to win equality in funding.