Disparity in School Funding Prevents True Equity in America’s Classrooms

Disparity in School Funding Prevents True Equity in America’s Classrooms

Have you ever wondered why certain schools seem to have beautiful facilities, an abundance of resources and qualifiedaffluent students, tenured teachers, while others, some within the same city, have crumbling infrastructure, limited resources and high teacher turnover? Well, the answer may lie in a disparity in school funding.

old school building


If you think the above question is exaggerated or hypothetical, check out the following description of two schools in Chicago as outlined in Why America’s Schools Have a Money Problem .

A Tale of Two Schools

Chicago Ridge School District (Illinois)

Rondout School, Rondout District 72 (Illinois)

Approximately 2/3 students come from low-income families and are learning English as a second language In an affluent suburb, there are 22 teachers and 145 students; classrooms are small and every student has an individualized learning plan
One nurse commutes between three schools Nearly all the teachers have a decade of experience and earn, on average, more than $90,000.
Two elementary schools share an art teacher and a music teacher (they spend ½ the year at different schools, then in January, they swap classrooms) Kids have a daily “mindfulness” break and lunch is cooked on-site, including vegetarian options
$9,794 spent per student (2013); $28,639 spent per student (2013)
From NPR: Why America’s Schools Have a Money Problem

These two schools in Chicago are about an hour apart in distance, but worlds apart in the quality of education their students receive. If this was an anomaly, I probably would not be writing this post. The fact that disparity in school funding is far more common than even I realized is why I’ve chosen to study this issue and share it on The Social Scholar.

School Funding Determined by Local Property Taxes

According to the report, the disparity between Chicago Ridge School District and Rondout District 72 is due to differences in property taxes. Ridge is located in a low-income area with fewer businesses and lower property taxes. Comparatively, Rondout is located in an affluent suburb with successful businesses. The taxes collected in each of those districts pay for local schools. I’m sure you get it now. The city’s poorest neighborhoods and kids with the highest need get the least amount of funding due to no fault of their own. Inadequate funding leads to a district’s inability to attract and retain quality teachers, dilapidated facilities, tattered and outdated books and supplies, and fewer academic and elective programs. And this is America.

The city’s poorest neighborhoods and kids with the highest need get the least amount of funding due to no fault of their own. 

school funding protest

Inequities in School Funding is a Civil Rights Issue

In a Washington Post article, writer Emma Brown noted that the inequities in school funding were creating a huge obstacle for the growing number of America’s children living in poverty. In the article, she also quoted Wade Henderson (president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Leadership Conference Education Fund) as saying:

“School funding decisions are one of the sleeper civil rights issues of our time…The evidence from across the country is clear and compelling: Our nation must dramatically change the way that educational resources are distributed so that there is true equity in America’s classrooms.”

There, that’s it. Inadequate and inequitable school funding is a civil rights issue that will continue to deteriorate public education and our children’s futures until we make a change in the school funding formula.

Why would we base school funding on local property taxes when we know poorer neighborhoods with meager property taxes collected will result in fewer educational resources and create inherently unequal education? This was the argument made in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez in 1973. Sadly, the court ruled against Rodriguez and held that there is no federal constitutional right to an education. And this is America.

Some states realize the inherent inequality in education resulting from an outdated funding formula and take action to change it. Those states allocate more funding to under-resourced school districts in an attempt to equalize the spending per student across all schools. In the annual National Report Card (NRC) states that provide systematically greater funding to districts in higher poverty areas are called progressive funding states. Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina are examples of states that have progressive funding systems. However, states that provide fewer resources to higher poverty districts are classified as regressive. Examples of regressive funding states are Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas. For more on the National Report Card, click: Is School Funding Fair?

I believe our time is here, past due even, to press for the right to a quality education for all students regardless of the neighborhoods they come from and the property taxes collected in the district. If we believe all of our kids deserve a quality education, then it will cost something. We either pay to improve our schools and the quality education our kids receive or we will pay in other, less desirable ways.

What can we do? Three things we all can do to create change:

  1. Get educated. Learn more about your state’s school funding formula. Find out if your state participates in progressive or regressive funding. Get clear examples of how much school districts within your state are paying per student.
  1. Get Involved. Attend district and state school board meetings and advocate for equitable funding, experienced teachers, school resources and programs.
  1. Get heard. Write to your legislators and school board officials to let them know you want them to ensure equity in school funding. Encourage others to write to them as well. There is power in numbers.


In closing, inequitable school funding is a civil rights issue and like all civil rights issues we have addressed before, it will require a coalition of concerned citizens to create change. I know we can do it together, because this is America.

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