DALLAS — When it comes to funding public schools, Texas and other Southern states are lagging behind the rest of the nation, the result of which is having a huge impact on students of color and students living in or near poverty, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Nationally, Texas ranked 40 out of a total of 51, in which Washington, D.C., is counted along with all 50 states when it comes to funding levels. The Lone Star State received an “F” mark for its funding level of $11,987 per student, which was $3,127 the national average of $15,114.
The low ranking put Texas at the bottom of the list with 10 other states. New York State was the highest in the national report, spending $11,520 above the national average per student, while Arizona was at the bottom of the list, spending $5,397 less than the national level of $15,114.
When grouped among Southern states, Texas was in the top three for funding levels behind Louisiana and Georgia. Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi followed.
The report, called “Inequity in School Funding: Southern States Must Prioritize Fair Public School Spending,” looked at public school funding in eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Analysts examined criteria established by Education Law Center’s 2021 “Making the Grade” report, an annual analysis of state-by-state public school funding.
The 2021 report examined funding for each state in 2019.
The report ranks and grades each state based on three key measures: funding level, funding distribution and funding effort. The funding level is determined by dividing state and local revenue by student enrollment, adjusted for local labor market costs. Funding distribution is the extent to which additional funds are distributed to school districts where there are high levels of students living in poverty. Funding effort refers to the state’s funding allocations to support pre-kindergarten through high school public education as a percentage of the state’s economic activity, which is measured by gross domestic product.
When it comes to funding distribution, or how much a state allocates funding to high-poverty districts relative to low-poverty districts, Texas received a D grade. The state, along with Alabama and Florida, was considered to have regressive funding in which high-poverty districts on average received less per-pupil funding than low-poverty districts. In Texas, that rate was 6%, while in Florida and Alabama the average funding disadvantage in high poverty districts was double that at 12%, the report showed.
The report emphasized the importance of fair school funding, which is the “foundational building block for high-performing, effective pre-kindergarten through 12 public schools.”
“A strong funding foundation is especially critical for low-income students, students of color, English learners, students with disabilities and students facing homelessness, trauma and other challenges,” the report said.
Fair school funding is particularly significant in the Southern states examined in the report because the “historical context of racial segregation and resistance to integration still permeates education politics and policymaking,” the report said.
In the south, public schools today have a disproportionate number of Black and Latino students, while white students are overrepresented in private schools, according to the report. Some Southern states are increasing funding for voucher systems which divert state funds into private institutions while leaving public schools drastically underfunded, the report said.
Inadequate funding of public schools and the failure to provide the additional resources need to support low-income students creates “an outsize impact on students of color” in the South, according to the report.
About 14% of American students are educated in five of the states focused on by the report (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi). One in five of these students in these states is poor; one in three is Black, according to the report.
Without equitable and adequate public school funding, pervasive racial and economic injustices perpetuate and exacerbate, the study said.
“Research shows that increasing school funding not only raises high school graduation rates but also leads to high adult wages and a lower likelihood of adult poverty, with the biggest benefits for students from low-income families,” the report said.
“The data is clear: School finance in the Southern states is in drastic need of improvement,” the report concluded.