by David Safier
If you're one of those people who go all out for "states rights," you should make sure the states get it right.
In general, poor students come to school with greater educational deficits than children from more affluent families. They tend to come from homes where the adults have less education, the home has fewer books, education is less highly valued—and they often arrive at school under-fed, under-slept and over-stressed. It makes sense for the state to spend extra money on their educations to deal the multiple problems those children face. At the very least, as much money should be spent on their educations as on children who come to school with more advantages.
But, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, about half the states spend less on school districts in poor areas than districts in more affluent areas. However, once federal funds are added in, the disparity evens out. Which, using conservative logic, is a good reason to cut federal spending on education, or at least give the money to states as block grants so they can spend more of it on rich kids. That's what Republican leaders in Congress are trying to do with the revision of No Child Left Behind.
The Washington Post has an excellent graphic charting spending state by state. When you just look at state and local funding, 23 states spend less on their poorest districts than their most affluent districts. The worst offender by a wide margin is Pennsylvania, where 33.5 percent less goes to the poorest districts. The national average is 15.6 percent less, with Arizona coming in at 14.1 percent less.
When you add federal funding into the mix, the disparity shrinks to 1.7 percent, still favoring the rich districts, but only by a little. With the Fed's help, Arizona spends 5.5 percent more on its poorest districts.
Here's the thing. At the very least, state and local funds should equalize spending between all districts, and a more sensible funding formula should swing the balance toward districts with a large number of poor children by adding funds for compensatory education. Federal dollars like Title 1 funds weren't created to restore balance. Their purpose is to help states give an added educational resources to children who need it most.