Schools need the resources to provide the supports and services students need to succeed. However, our public schools are largely locally funded. Therefore, schools in poor communities often lack the necessary resources to meet their students’ needs. These communities typically have many parents with low incomes and low levels of education, i.e., low socio-economic status (SES). Therefore, children in these communities often have the highest levels of need, but their schools typically have the lowest levels of financial resources. Conversely, students in high SES communities generally have the lowest levels of need, but their schools tend to have the highest levels of resources. As a result, our public school systems vary tremendously in their abilities to meet students’ needs.

Many states (and to a small degree the federal government) do attempt to address this inequity in funding for public schools. To varying degrees, they provide special funding to public school systems with high numbers of children likely to struggle in school. They typically focus on children from low income families, from families where English is not the primary language, and students with disabilities. However, this targeted funding is rarely sufficient to provide the level of supports and services at-risk children need to match the performance of their better-off peers.

States provide 46% of the funding for kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) public schools with local communities providing the bulk of the rest. However, since the Great Recession of 2008, most state governments have cut their funding for public schools, despite growing numbers of students (an increase of about 800,000 from 2008 to 2014) and growing demands to improve student performance. At least 31 states were providing less funding per student in 2014 than they had in 2008.

Although some local communities were able to make up for reduced state funding, typically they did not. Nationwide, total public school funding by local communities also declined from 2008 to 2014. As a result, public school systems had about 300,000 fewer employees, primarily teachers, in 2014 than in 2008, despite the increase in the number of students. [1]

Research shows that school funding does affect student outcomes, particularly for poor children. Children who attended better funded schools are more likely to graduate from high school and to have higher earnings and lower poverty rates as adults. [2]

About 30 states have had court cases over school funding and its implications for educational equity and adequacy. [3] For example, Massachusetts and New Jersey have had successful class action lawsuits on behalf of public school students from low income communities. The courts found in both cases that inequitable funding for public schools in low income communities violated students’ rights to a free and appropriate public education as specified by their state’s constitution. (I’ll describe Massachusetts’s efforts to address this inequity in some detail in a subsequent post.)

If we truly want all our children to succeed in school, additional funding is needed from state and federal governments that targets low income and other at-risk children. Not only must we provide greater funding for public schools in low income communities, we must increase funding for the early childhood and family support programs that ensure that children arrive at school ready to learn and succeed. As my previous post described, at-risk children are not getting the supports and services they, their families, their early care and education providers, or their schools and teachers need.

[1]       Leachman, M., Albares, N., Masterson, K., & Wallace, M., 12/10/15, “Most states have cut school funding, and some continue cutting,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

[2]       Jackson, C.K., Johnson, R.C., & Persico, C., 2015, “The effects of school spending on educational and economic outcomes: Evidence from school finance reforms,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 20847

[3]       Schneider, R.E., 9/27/07, “The state mandate for education: The McDuffy and Hancock decisions,” Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Retrieved from the Internet on 1/24/16 at http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/litigation/mcduffy_hancock.html.



  1. It is a constant spiral. No money from towns = limited resources for schools = poor school performance. Here is my tiny glimmer of light: the smallest thing from a teacher can make a remarkable difference in a child. In schools where children come to school hungry, tired, or scared, the best teaching can be listening to a child; not just caring or giving, but listening. That opens windows. While we work for a system to implement a way to appropriately serve children who need services most, teachers can make a difference.

    1. Jennie, Again, you are absolutely right. Teachers in all schools and all early care and education settings do make a difference for kids – every day and in every setting. Even in the worst situations, caring teachers make a difference. I just wish every teacher would have the environment and supports that would allow her to make the biggest difference possible. And that she wouldn’t have to struggle to overcome the disadvantages present in children’s homes or inadequate resources in the classroom she is in. Wow, think about the impact teachers would have then!

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