Heritage Foundation Falsely Claims That Student Funding Inequities Don’t Exist

Our guest bloggers are Raegen Miller, associate director for education research at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Diana Epstein, a senior education policy analyst at CAPAF.

New research showing evidence of racial/ethnic disparities in education funding stands in contrast to the conclusions of a recent Heritage Foundation report, “The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Financing” by Jason Richwine. “To the extent that funding differences exist at all, they tend to slightly favor lower-performing groups, especially blacks,” Richwine claimed. His pronouncement was quickly taken up by conservatives like Richard Spencer of Alternative Right, who wrote, “Richwine is helping policy analysts take a step closer to racial reality” (whatever that means).

Inexplicably, Richwine failed to pay attention to the correct observation in another Heritage publication, “Schools serving low-income students are often poorly funded,” as put in 2000 by Samuel Casey Carter in “No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools.” Indeed, disparities are obvious when per pupil expenditures for each group are expressed as a percentage of per pupil expenditures for white students, by state. Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania, for example, stand out with percentages in the vicinity of 90 percent:

Advocates have an especially strong case that these states should reform their approaches to funding elementary and secondary education so that high poverty districts receive more state and local resources than low poverty districts, as is the practice in Indiana, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, for example.

School funding systems certainly don’t set out to create disparities in school funding across racial or ethnic categories. That would be illegal. But despite a couple of generations of litigation, court action, and legislation, school districts in high-poverty areas are still often funded less generously than districts elsewhere. Being unfair is too often quite legal. And given that poverty rates vary among racial and ethnic groups, it should come as no surprise that there exist disparities in education expenditure across these groups.