Is School Funding Fair? Fifth Edition

Is School Funding Fair? Fifth Edition

The following post presents research or analyses from outside KASB and is presented for information purposes.  KASB neither endorses nor refutes the conclusions or recommendations contained herein.

This month, the Education Law Center and Rutgers University released the fifth edition of “Is School Funding Fair?  A National Report Card,” written by Bruce Baker and others.  According to the report, “The National Report Card (NRC) evaluates and compares the extent to which state finance systems ensure equality of educational opportunity for all children, regardless of background, family income, place of residence, or school Location.”

The report includes four areas of focus:  Funding Level, Funding Distribution, Effort, and Coverage.  The following shows what the report found; paying particular attention to where Kansas stands.

Funding Level

Funding Level “measures the overall level of state and local revenue provided to school districts, and compares each state’s average per‐pupil revenue with that of other states. To recognize the variety of interstate differences, each state’s revenue level is adjusted to reflect differences in regional wages, poverty, economies of scale, and population density.”

Overall the report finds that “school funding levels continue to be characterized by wide disparities among states, ranging from a high of $17,331 per pupil in Alaska to a low of $5,746 in Idaho.”

Kansas ranks 22nd of all the states, with per pupil funding at $9,422.  

Funding Distribution

Funding Distribution “addresses the key question of whether a state’s funding system recognizes the need for additional resources for students in settings of concentrated student poverty.”

Overall, “fourteen states, including Nevada, North Dakota and Illinois, are regressive, providing less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of low‐income students.”

Kansas earned a “C” and ranked 29th, with high poverty districts receiving 98% as much funding per pupil going as low poverty districts.  


Effort is defined as the ratio of local and state spending on education to the gross state product.

“Many of the lowest funded states, such as Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas, allocate a very low percentage of their states’ economic capacity to fund public education.”

Kansas earned a “C” and ranked 21st, with an index of 3.6%; meaning Kansas education spending is 3.6% of the Per Capita Gross State Product of $44,462.  It also ranked 12th in terms of annual percent change in effort; with an average annual change between 2008 and 2013 of -6%. Only 4 states had a positive average annual change during this time; meaning the vast majority of states have had a decline in effort since 2008.  


Coverage measures the proportion of school age children attending the state’s public schools, as compared with those not attending the state’s public schools, and compares the median household income for the students in each group.  

“The percentage of school‐aged children enrolled in public schools ranges from 76% in the District of Columbia to a high of 93% in Utah and Nevada. In several states, there are wide disparities in the incomes of families with children in public and nonpublic schools.”

Kansas ranks 24th, with 88% of school age children enrolled in public schools and nonpublic school median household income at 143% of public school median household income.  

Major Findings

The report cites the following major findings:

  • Only one state, New Jersey, is positioned relatively well on all four fairness indicators.
  • Wyoming and Vermont score well on Funding Level, Effort and Coverage, but both scored an “F” on the important Funding Distribution measure. This means that even though these states are funded relatively well, with high funding levels and high effort, there is great inequity in the finance system that disadvantages poor districts.
  • Texas is the only state that is very poorly positioned on all four fairness measures, receiving an “F” in Funding Effort, a “D” in Funding Distribution and scoring in the lower half of the Funding Level and Coverage rankings.
  • Idaho and Nevada score poorly on all measures except Coverage.
  • California, North Carolina and Tennessee score poorly in all areas except Funding Distribution. With a low funding level and low fiscal investment, even a progressive distribution of funds will result in an unfair system.

Fair School Funding and Resource Allocation
The report goes on to say that three specific factors play heavily into effective schools: Early Childhood Education, Wage Competitiveness, and Teacher-to-Student Ratios.
Early Childhood Education

“There is great variation in the extent to which young children are enrolled in early childhood programs in the states. Total enrollment of 3‐ and 4‐year‐olds ranges from a high of 78% in the District of Columbia to a low of 29% in Idaho. These two states also are at the extremes in terms of enrollment among low‐income children, with 70% enrolled in the District of Columbia and only 25% in Idaho.”

Kansas ranked 30th on this measure; with an enrollment ratio of 84%.  This ratio is based on the fact that 42% of all eligible children are enrolled in early childhood programs, but only 35% of eligible low income children are enrolled in such programs.

Wage Competitiveness

“Most states’ average teachers’ salaries are far below the salaries of their non‐teacher counterparts. Nationally, teachers beginning their careers at age 25 earn about 82% of what non‐teachers earn. Only three states have average teacher wages that are comparable or greater than other similar workers – North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Wages are least competitive in Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia and Washington, where teachers earn about 30% less.”

Kansas ranked 37th on this measure; with teachers at age 25 earning 78% of comparable non-teachers and teachers at age 45 earning 68% of comparable non-teachers.  

Teacher-to-Student Ratios

“Twenty‐two states have a progressive distribution of teachers, i.e., at least 5% more teachers per student in high poverty districts. Eight states are regressive and have fewer teachers per student in high poverty districts (Wisconsin, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Connecticut, Florida, Rhode Island and Nevada). The remaining 18 states have essentially no difference in staffing ratios between low and high poverty districts.”

Kansas ranks 21st on this measure; with 7.3 teachers per students at the 10% poverty level, which is 105% of the ratio of teachers per student for students not in poverty.
You can read the full report here.