By James D. Agresti
That hasn’t been true for at least half a century, but people are spreading this myth through deceptive studies that exclude federal funds.
In reality, a broad range of credible studies that include all funding sources show that such school districts are as well-financed as others.
According to Democrat presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, “our current approach to school funding at the federal, state, and local level underfunds our schools and results in many students from low-income backgrounds receiving less funding than other students on a per-student basis.”
Along the same lines:
- Sarah Mervosh of the New York Times reported in early 2019 that “on average, nonwhite districts received about $2,200 less per student than districts that were predominantly white….”
- Maria Danilova of the Associated Press (AP) reported in 2018 that “the highest- poverty” school districts “receive an average of $1,200 less per child than the least-poor districts, while districts serving the largest numbers of minority students get about $2,000 less than those serving the fewest students of color….”
- Democrat presidential contender and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders claims that “less is invested in the education of children from low-income families compared with their more affluent peers” because “school districts are funded out of local property taxes.”
- Clare Lombardo of National Public Radio (NPR) reported in 2019 that “high- poverty districts serving mostly students of color receive about $1,600 less per student than the national average.”
With the exception of Sanders—who provides no evidence to support his claim—all of the others misrepresent their sources by failing to reveal that they ignore federal funds. Moreover, their sources obscure this fact in the following ways:
- Warren cites a study by the Education Law Center, which refers to federal funding on page 2 but then never accounts for any of it. Instead, the study mentions on page 5 that it uses “actual state and local revenues” for its analysis.
- The New York Times and NPR cite a report from EdBuild, which doesn’t say a word about the exclusion of federal revenues. Instead, it tacitly slips this into a separate webpage of “research methods“ that references “revenues from state and local sources” while ignoring federal revenues except when subtracting out charter school funding
- The AP cites a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that repeatedly mentions federal funding, but when it presents the $1,200 and $2,000 underfunding figures quoted by the AP, it cites a study from the Education Trust that explicitly excludes “federal sources.” The Commission on Civil Rights doesn’t even allude to this fact—and to discover it, readers must go to the footnote and then locate the study from a citation with an unclickable link.