Where does the money come from?
*Tap or hover over the chart below for more information*
Per pupil spending is the average amount of money a state spends on education per student.
SOURCE: 2017 Annual Survey of School System Finances, Table 11
Created by: Sydney Lynch
Factoring in funding
How public schools are funded is one of the most crucial equity elements of education. The prominent differences in a school's ability to provide appropriate resources revolve around funding gaps in school districts. With federal budgets changing every few years, the question of how public school funding can be improved is important to address, but it is also important to understand where the funding comes from and how it is spread across the United States.
The general breakdown for school district funding is primarily split up three ways with some state funding formulas differing slightly. The federal government provides around 8 percent of the total funding and delegates the rest of it to the responsibility of the local and state governments. Percentage-wise, state governments provide around 47 percent while local taxes/governments supply about 45 percent.
The federal government provides close to $79 billion to the National Education Fund which is then broken down to all of the states and once more divided by districts. While that initial number seems like a lot of money, broken down across 13,056 public school districts it is calculated that not a substantial amount of money is being supplied to each district.
The local and state governments affect the process that creates a gap in well-funded schools and poor school districts. Ideally, the state government should supply the districts with the rest of the budget that they need, but that is not the case. State governments utilize ‘funding formulas’ that are highly controversial, except in five states. There are a couple of different variants to the formulas, the most popular model being foundation grants. The state uses the model and chooses the minimum amount that should be spent on a student, calculates the district’s ability to pay and then fills in the rest.
However, if a state changes the amount of money it deems sufficient for the average cost of educating a student, this can affect schools drastically. As the minimum amount per student goes lower, the state’s contributions to poorer districts decreases as well. If a district with a smaller tax base can only pay around $1,000 per enrolled student although the minimum bar is set at $5,000, they will only receive $4,000 in support. Districts with higher property taxes will be able to far exceed that base amount and thus will be able to provide a better education to their students even without state assistance. This creates an inequitable education for students in different districts.
Another model used for states in the attempt to allocate funding is the guaranteed tax base. This equalizes access to a minimum amount but also the revenue generated at a given tax rate. What this model does is essentially guarantee a district a set amount of money for their taxes. There however still lies the issue that some districts with higher property taxes, which exceed the minimum money to spend on a student, end up without state support.
Each of these models have problems that come along with it. Funding for schools is one of the major contributors to issues in education equity.
Written by: Dylan Ashcraft
Created by: Sydney Lynch