School Funding – Part II – How School Funding Varies by Student

The topic of school funding continues to be a source of heated debate. With most of a school district’s funds coming from the state and local levels—and only a tiny fraction coming from the federal government and each state determining their funding process, school districts across the country have vastly different budgets to work with.

Since most school funding comes from income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes, children in more affluent areas will naturally have a very different educational experience than children in disadvantaged areas. Experts continue to work on solutions that will adequately address these issues but as of now, there is a huge level of financial and educational inequities.

The average range of per-pupil spending across the country can be anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 for students without disabilities and anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 for students with disabilities.

This huge discrepancy challenges school districts receiving per-pupil funds on the lower ends of these ranges as they struggle to provide the same resources and opportunities as school districts receiving per-pupil funds on the higher ends of these ranges.  It’s impossible.  The end result is a lower quality education and educational experience.

While funding is often determined on a per-pupil basis, it’s not like school districts are actually handed a separate check to use specifically for each student.  There are many line items on a school’s budget that utilize these funds.

Some of the major budget categories for school districts include:

  • Transportation
  • Facilities
  • Energy
  • Health and Safety
  • Instruction
  • Curriculum and Staff Development
  • Food Services
  • Library Services
  • Counseling Services
  • School Leadership and Support

Determining a school budget is a tedious process and funds are not equitably distributed, even within a single school district.

While school funding models are not designed to increase or decrease per-pupil funding based on grade level, the budget is entirely up to each individual school district.   Some students may end up receiving more or less of the money allocated. This can happen if certain subject areas or electives classes are given higher priority than others as well.

Teacher salaries are also affected by a school district’s budget. In general, teacher salaries are set by steps or lanes.  Each individual school district decides what the starting salary is for new teachers in their district, when teachers move on to the next step, and what salary bump occurs at each step as they progress.

Again, the more affluent school districts with larger budgets have higher teacher salaries than disadvantaged school districts with lower teacher school budgets.   The more affluent school districts are much more likely to attract and retain better qualified and more experienced teachers.

Again, the inequities of the level and quality of education is determined by a formula that is set up to provide higher funding for the more affluent schools and less for those disadvantaged.  These financial models are failing our students, teachers, schools and communities.