New report highlights school 'districts on the edge'

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A new report from the Education Law Center and Rutgers looks at how a school district's funding compares with other districts operating in the same regional labor market and uses that benchmark to unearth an alarming list of "districts on the edge"— systems serving above-average student need with below-average state and local resources.

"Is School Funding Fair? America's Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts" calls attention to systems in 20 states where more than "1.5 million children are educated in school districts with extremely disadvantaged fiscal conditions." The report's list includes districts in all regions—from Massachusetts to California—and it calls attention to desperate examples like Sumter, S.C., and Shelby County, Tenn.: districts "with nearly three times area poverty rates and less than 84 and 83 percent, respectively, of the average state and local revenue per pupil."

Also drawing particular attention in the report is Chicago, which year after year is "one of the most fiscally disadvantaged large urban districts in the nation." The district, authors emphasize, is tied to Illinois, a state that "has a highly regressive school funding system and scores near the bottom" on rankings of state funding distribution (see the companion report "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card."

The landscape described in the study is a "mix of fiscally disadvantaged school districts arrayed across the country" that "underscore the absence of a coherent and fair approach to financing state public education systems. Some states simply fail to provide sufficient support to address student needs across districts and differences in local fiscal capacity to meet those needs… In other cases, states create aid formulas that measure district need and/or local fiscal capacity imprecisely or inaccurately," conclude the authors, adding that the problems faced and described in the report do "not happen by accident."

[Mike Rose]