Seperate and Unequal: Why Poor Districts Need More Funding

Do rich districts in your state get more money per pupil than poor ones?

A recent article in the Washington Post says in 23 states the answer to that question is Yes. In 23 states, per pupil local and state education spending is higher in rich school districts than in poor ones.

Our members are supporting schools that live this reality every day. Teachers in AOC partnerships can spend all day alone with as many as 30 students whose reading levels span three or four grades. Some classrooms don’t have enough books to go around; many schools have no library. The challenges are enormous, sometimes overwhelming.

While money alone will never teach a child to read or enable a teacher to calm a chaotic classroom, the lack of money severely affects what schools can do for children.

The topic of school financing is in the air now because this week Congress is working to re-authorize the Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA was first passed 50 years ago in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Its purpose was to give states and cities additional funding to expand educational resources for children disadvantaged by poverty.

Policy makers who created the ESEA realized that what money can buy is: more experienced teachers, more aides in the classroom, more targeted professional development for teachers, more books, smaller class sizes. Gym, art, music. More support professionals for students dealing with homelessness, hunger, and family instability. Increased learning time. The list goes on.

In the years since the ESEA was first passed though, we’ve seen it dismantled. It’s been repurposed, rearranged, and used to put unreasonable conditions on teachers, students, and school districts so they can qualify for the increased funding they desperately need to provide high quality education.

Money that was supposed to pay for “extra” instruction and support so disadvantaged children could catch up with their peers is being used instead to reduce state and local funding. What’s been forgotten is that it is not extra, it’s only evening.

Many middle class children have a year or two of pre-school and kindergarten before first grade. Many participate in community arts and sports programs, and have access to English-language books and stories at home. Most children in poverty aren’t offered those same experiences and they start school behind. Often, they never catch up.

The National Education Association, the country’s largest teacher’s union, now calls for a return to the ESEA’s original purpose and vision: giving poor districts more funding than wealthy districts to create true equity in public education.

Here at AOC we understand the financial pressures states, cities, and towns are under, and the importance of balancing budgets and reducing deficits. But it’s wrong to balance budgets by reducing support for the most vulnerable children in our midst.

How would increased funding improve the district where your partnership serves? Do you live in one of the 23 states that fund poor districts less than rich ones? How do you think that affects the children and quality of life in your state? What would you like to see Congress do with the reauthorization of the ESEA? Take a look at this great infographic tracking the last 50 years of the ESEA, and let us know what you think.

Infographic from

Infographic from