A new, wide-ranging study from the Department of Education confirms what advocates for low income students have known for many years: states and school districts are failing to fund high poverty schools. The Department of Education’s report looked at over 13,000 districts across the country, and found that nearly half of all high poverty schools received at least 10% less funding than the average amount of funding for schools in their districts. This is in spite of the fact that high poverty schools are generally much more expensive to operate. Title 1 funds are no longer extra sources of funding for disadvantaged students as was their original intention. In states like North Carolina, they are being used to fill budget gaps instead.
According to the report, the main cause of this funding disparity is the differing levels that teachers are paid in different schools. Many states, including North Carolina, provide funding for a certain number of teaching positions in each school and then pay that number of salaries to each school, regardless of how much the salaries may vary from school to school. High poverty schools tend to have teachers who are less experienced and possess fewer teaching credentials and who are therefore paid less; high wealth schools tend to have the most experienced and highly credentialed teachers who are paid more. Perversely, high poverty schools receive less money for teachers than do high wealth schools.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes one way to address this problem is to close the “comparability loophole” in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which requires that districts give high-poverty schools the same share of state and local dollars as other schools before the district can tap Title I dollars for disadvantaged students. Presently-stalled bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the ESEA, sponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin and Russ Cochran, includes language designed to close this loophole.