Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Study: Federal Loophole Means Minority-Majority Schools Get Less Funding

A recent report by the Center for American Progress asserts that the promise of equality made by the landmark Brown. v. Board of Education ruling has been broken.Latino and black children tend to be clustered in schools that receive substantially less per-pupil funding than schools with primarily white students.The result is that black and Latino students often receive a separate and unequal education.

CAP places the blame for this disparity on a federal loophole. To receive Title 1 money, the federal government requires districts to provide “comparable” services between poor and wealthy schools. But teacher salaries are excluded from complying with the requirement. As a result, less experienced, lower-paid teachers are clustered in poorer, high-minority schools.

As Ary Spatig-Amerikaner, the author of the CAP report, writes:

“School districts across the country routinely tell the federal government that they are meeting this requirement. But the law explicitly requires districts to exclude teacher salary differentials tied to experience when determining comparability compliance. This is a major exclusion because experience is a chief driver of teachers’ salaries. This misleading process leads to a misleading result—districts think they are providing equal spending on high-need schools and low-need schools, even though they aren’t. This problem has been frequently called the comparability loophole.”

CAP recommends closing the loophole, and wants to see TItle 1 schools receiving at least as much money as other schools when taking into account teacher salaries. The group backed up their conclusion of inequality with some striking numbers. Researchers analyzed 2009 data from the U.S. Department of Education and found that schools with a white population of more than 90 percent spent $733 more per student than schools with a 90 percent or more non-white enrollment. Across the entire country, schools spent an average of $334 more dollars on each white student than non-whites. While several hundred dollars may not appear to be a huge funding gap, it’s important to remember that this is a per-student dollar figure. When you take into account a school’s total enrollment the numbers become significant.

The study’s authors point out a scenario in which a 90 percent minority school would see a $440,000 increase if funding was equalized. The researchers say this could represent 12 more first-year teachers or nine veteran teachers. It could also mean the difference between being able to afford technology, counselors, or more teachers. Less funding also often means lower-paid and less experienced teachers and staff.

If you are searching for local data, the group has compiled a state-by-state analysis. Some states were outliers in which a larger minority population meant more funding. But the states with the most Latino and black students–Texas and California–showed funding disparities. However, this study makes me pose the question: Even if the loophole is closed, will more experienced higher-paid teachers be willing to teach in the poorer, more challenging schools?

Writing for Voxxi News, former teacher Cammy Harbison said teacher pay must shift to a merit-based system to attract talented teachers to poorer schools. Would higher pay for teachers in poorer schools make any difference in teacher quality?