As we wait for the district court’s final ruling on the Texas school finance system lawsuit, new numbers show more than five million school children are being educated under a system that values some students more than others.
Texas is a growing and changing state. In the past 10 years, the student population of Texas has grown by 20 percent, but the number of economically disadvantaged students has grown at twice that rate. Currently, 60 percent of students are classified as economically disadvantaged. Research shows that, particularly for low-income students, the investments states make in education and the equity of those investments matter in promoting academic success.
Equity means that every child receives the resources needed to succeed, not that every child receives the same amount of funding. In order to provide an equal opportunity to succeed for all students, the state must be willing to invest greater resources in high poverty districts.
The current school funding formulas create great inequity between school districts. An analysis by the Equity Center found that Tier 1 funding (funding used to provide a basic education program) for the 15 percent best funded districts is $2,463 more per weighted student (some students are more expensive to educate than others, so a weight or multiplier is added to compensate for that difference) than what districts in the bottom 15 percent receive. Unfortunately, too often those in under-funded districts are the very students that need additional resources to succeed.
Research by the Boston Consulting Group found that how much a state spends per students is significantly correlated with achievement, particularly for low-income students. For example, a $1,000-per-student funding increase for low-income students is correlated with a .42 point increase in 4th grade NAEP scores. Their most statistically robust finding was that increasing equity across the state benefits students of all income groups.
Districts in Texas receive 20 percent more funding for every child classified as Texas economically disadvantaged to pay for intensive services through the compensatory education “comp-ed” weight. The Boston Consulting Group research supports that an increase to this weight would benefit all students. Increasing the “comp-ed” weight is an immediate action the Legislature can take to improve equity in the school funding formulas. Considering the “comp-ed” weight hasn’t been adjusted since the mid-1980s it is definitely due for a review.
The Legislature also needs to address that the growth in economically disadvantaged students has led to concentrations of poverty in some areas. Districts that experience high concentrations of low-income students face additional challenges that could be partially mitigated by creating an additional allotment for districts with more than 80 percent economically disadvantaged students.
Increasing equity in school funding levels the playing field and promotes equal opportunity for all five million Texas school children—something we can’t afford not to do.