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Study: Low-income schools shortchanged in funding

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The U.S. Department of Education released a report showing that districts across the country, including Philadelphia, do not equitably allocate their state and local dollars to the highest-poverty schools.

Original research on 2008-09 school-level expenditures shows that more than 40 percent of schools receiving federal Title I money spent less on teachers and personnel than better-off schools that do not receive Title I money. Schools receive Title I money to serve disadvantaged students.

The inequity occurs because teachers in high-poverty schools tend to be less experienced and are therefore paid less.

Currently, Title I requires districts to provide schools with “comparability of services” in an effort to ensure fairness, but the law does not require districts to consider school-level expenditures when calculating comparability.

For budgeting purposes, most districts calculate the cost of a teacher as being the same regardless of actual salaries. This practice masks differences in their actual compensation and experience.

The report says that the problem can be fixed by revising the “comparability provisions” of the Title I law. It also says that this can be done without undue disruption, will come at a low cost to school districts, and will significantly help Title I schools.

Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah, a leading proponent of the changes recommended by the report, is the author of a bill addressing the problem (H.R. 1294, the Fiscal Fairness Act). Revising Title I’s comparability provisions is also a key aspect of President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In a press conference Wednesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called this inequity “an unfortunate reality” and said that addressing it is “the right thing to do, and we don’t think it’s that controversial, frankly.” Duncan noted bipartisan support for these measures.

The department website includes a searchable database that shows per-pupil spending disparities among individual schools.

The report specifically mentions Philadelphia as an example of a school district that would benefit from changing the comparability requirements:

"For example, low-spending Title I and higher-poverty schools in Philadelphia would see a projected average increase of 12 percent in their state and local expenditures under the existing money approach, or $445 per pupil for each school (on average).”

Legislation coming out of this research could have a big impact on city schools.

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