The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Is More Money for High Poverty Schools  Worth Fighting For?

on May 26, 2017

Today’s post is based on an article in the New York Times, It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education, by Kevin Carey and Elizabeth A. Harris, which has been sitting on my computer screen for several months. Nevertheless, with state school budgets for next year now being determined and Betsy DeVos the head of the Department of Education, I think it gives timely information to consider and, perhaps, to act on.


For many years politicians have been almost unanimous in believing that spending more money doesn’t help public schools to do a better job of educating their students. As a result, many of them don’t have any qualms about reducing the funds for their state’s schools while claiming that they are just being realistic in tough times. As citizens we should question whether they are doing the right thing or  acting on ignorance and prejudice against our public schools.

One fact we should know about is an important change in school funding practices that began in 1990 and still continues in several states. Up until that time almost all states followed the process of funding school districts equally, and that practice was supported by courts dealing with lawsuits against state actions. Then, for some reason, courts started to think about adequacy for high poverty schools and began to change their decisions, awarding higher funding to districts that had large numbers of low-income schools with most students living in poverty, and some others that needed extra school services. As a result, the schools that received extra funding started to show better results in terms of student grades and graduation rates

The differences in school funding since that time have made it possible for researchers to do comparative studies and report the results. According to one done by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and published last July, spending more money on high poverty schools has had a strong positive effect on students. In addition, another study done by researchers at the University of California was published around the same time by the Quarterly Journal of Economics. (QJE). It also reported positive outcomes in high poverty schools that received greater funding.

NBER’s research examined student test scores in 26 states that more generously funded high poverty schools, and compared them to students’ scores in 23 states that have stayed with equal funding for all schools. The scores looked at were the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, (NAEP), which is given to randomly selected students in schools throughout the country. Not only did the researchers look at students’ test scores but also at their race, income and school district. In addition, they went back over a long period of time, which enabled them to compare students’ scores in poor and wealthy districts before and after the changes in school spending. What they found was a consistent pattern of academic improvement in the schools that had received additional funding. Those changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as previous projects that had decreased class sizes in the early grades

Although the QJE study looked at far different data than the NBER study, it also  showed positive results for better funding for high poverty schools. Rather than  looking at current test scores, those researchers focused on the long term results of extra funding.  They looked at how many years of schooling students had completed and the employment outcomes for about 1500 students, finding that a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending for poor children matched a rise in their adult wages , which were almost 10 percent higher than before.

According to the chief researcher, of the QJE study, C Kirabo Jackson, “The notion that spending doesn’t matter is just not true. We found that exposure to higher levels of public K-12 spending when you’re in school has a pretty large beneficial effect on the adult outcomes of kids, and that those effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families.”

Although the power of extra funding to high poverty schools has been ratified by only two research projects, it fits with my experience and prejudices. I can’t tell from the article how schools used their additional funds, but I suspect that they made possible a more relaxed and positive school atmosphere for students and teachers. What I would like to see is new research done in schools receiving extra funding today that would include classroom observations, interviews with students and teachers, and records of how the additional money was spent. Such studies would verify-or refute- the existing studies and give reasons for higher funding where it is  needed.  It would certainly please me to read about the success of better funded schools than “our failing public schools” so often mentioned in news articles and politicians’ rants.

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