A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) titled Unequal Education focuses on the measure of per-pupil state and local spending that reinforces the lingering status of a system of public school financing that shortchanges students of color. This follows a 2011 study by the Department of Education that provided clear evidence that districts failed to ensure their high poverty schools get an equitable distribution of local and state funding.

Some of the top findings from the CAP report are the following:

  • We underinvest in students of color in comparison to their white peers.
  • It is inaccurate to think that variation in school’s per-pupil spending stems almost completely from differences in property-tax base across school districts. In reality, 40 percent of variation in per-pupil spending occurs within school districts.
  • Correcting the comparability loophole within Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would help districts rectify the issue and make more equitable expenditures on students of color.

As we come closer to the end of the 112th Congress, hopes may rise again of having No Child Left Behind (ESEA) reauthorized after next January. That would serve as a key opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the federal policy that is supposed to protect against financial inequities within districts. We also need to rethink the implementation of Title I and comparability provisions to fully ensure that local districts are using Title I funds to supplement and not supplant other funding sources while also ensuring that they provide educational services to their higher-poverty schools that are comparable to those provided to non-Title I schools.

By taking a closer look at budgeting policies that cause dramatic variation with a district’s expenditures, we’ll hopefully move one step closer to achieving educational equity.