Home > Uncategorized > Study Identifies Nation’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged Districts… But Overlooks One Clear Solution

Study Identifies Nation’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged Districts… But Overlooks One Clear Solution

February 26, 2017

The Education Law Center issued a report earlier this month identifying the 200 districts in the United States with the greatest financial disadvantage. The method they used to identify these districts was straightforward, but, as the highlighted language indicates, it effectively exclude every small rural district in the country.

A fiscally disadvantaged district is one in which the state and local revenue per pupil is lower than the labor-market average while the child poverty rate is higher than the labor-market average. To achieve a manageable list of school districts for further exploration, somewhat arbitrary cutoff levels were applied as follows:

Fiscally disadvantaged =
State and local revenue per pupil < 90 percent labor-market average and
U.S. Census poverty rate > 120 percent labor-market average

Only those districts enrolling at least 2,000 pupils were considered, as they should be able to operate with efficiency of scale. Non-rural districts were given particular attention. These districts are in either metropolitan areas—based around a population hub of 50,000 or more residents—or micropolitan areas—based around a population hub of 10,000 to 50,000 residents.

The report did identify a solid rationale for why some districts require more funding than others:

Put simply, districts with higher student needs than surrounding districts in the same labor market don’t require the same total revenue per pupil to get the job done. They require more. Higher need districts require more money for higher salaries to recruit and retain similar quantities (per pupil) of similar quality teachers. In addition, higher need districts must be able to provide the additional programs, services and supports (including smaller classes and early childhood education) necessary to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while still maintaining advanced and enriched course options.

Given the recent happenings in Washington in terms of federal funding, I felt the report’s conclusion was disappointing. It focussed on the responsibility of STATES to fix their funding mechanism and overlooked the role the federal government did play and, more importantly, could play in encouraging better funding. As noted in several earlier posts, the elimination of the “supplement-not-supplant” regulation as part of the ESSA rule making process will exacerbate financial disparities in funding. Moreover, if progressive principles were applied, the federal funds could be specifically targeted to those “most financially challenged” districts instead of being spread to every district that serves any financially disadvantaged child.


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