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National Academic Standards Versus Inequities in Funding Schools

This IAE Blog entry is about national standards and funding for public K-12 schools in the United States.

Most of the U.S. public school funding comes from state and local government agencies. The U.S. Federal Government provides about 1/8 of the funding and a modest amount comes from school fund-raising efforts and grants.

As you know, we are in the midst of strong efforts to set national standards in K-12 Reading, Mathematics, and Science education. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Reading and Mathematics have been widely adopted, and the CCSS in Science are nearing completion. See

The next two sections of this IAE Blog entry present data on the quite large funding inequalities that exist in schools across the country. These funding differences lead to major differences in the educational opportunities of students in our educational system. Thus, we have the rather strange situation of trying to have all students meet uniform standards where there are huge inequities in per-pupil funding.

Cost Per Student Varies Widely

A recent article by Andrew Ujifusa (2012) provides some summary data about school funding. Here are a few tidbits from the Ujifusa article:

•     Per-pupil spending in U.S. public schools reached $10,615 in fiscal 2010.

•     Total revenues for U.S. public K-12 schools reached $594 million in fiscal 2010.

•     Total school system debt jumped by 1.9 percent from 2009 to 2010, up to $407 billion.

We are all aware of the cuts going on across the country in school spending in order to balance budgets. Many are placing increased emphasis on distance learning to help decrease costs.

A recent U.S. Census report (2012) provides state by-state-costs based on 2010 data. The U.S. average per pupil expenditure was $10,615.

Top 5 Per-Pupil Spenders

New York                       $18,618

District of Columbia    $18,667

New Jersey                    $16,841

Alaska.                           $15,783

Vermont                        $15,274

Bottom 5 Per-Pupil Spenders

Tennessee                     $8,065

Oklahoma                     $7,896

Arizona                         $7,848

Idaho                             $7,106

Utah                              $6,064

A person need not be a mathematical genius to notice that there is a huge difference between per-pupil funding in the top list as compared with the bottom list.

Note added 5/22/2013. Data for the year 2011 is available at Governments Division Reports by Mark Dixon Issued May 2013.

Fairness of Funding Is a Very Complex Issue

The huge differences in the figures given above can be partially explained by differences in cost of living and levels of poverty from region to region. In addition, states vary in how they measure per-pupil schooling costs, so comparisons between states are on somewhat shaky grounds.

The issue of fairness in funding is discussed in the report by Baker, Sciarra, and Farrie (2010). Quoting from that report:

Meeting the equal-opportunity challenge in education requires funding all public schools at levels sufficient to provide a rigorous curriculum in a broad range of subject areas, delivered by well trained teachers, and supported by effective school and district leaders. It also requires sufficient funds for schools serving high numbers of low-income students, English-language learners, and students with other special needs. Concentrated student poverty in schools generates greater needs that, in turn, require resources to support effective programs and strategies such as high quality early education, full-day kindergarten, after-school and summer-school programs, and smaller classes in the early grades.

Of course, funding alone will not lead to better academic performance and outcomes for students. Funding also must be invested wisely, focusing on key areas such as quality teaching, strong curriculum, programs for struggling students, effective supervision, and sufficient supports for districts and schools from state education agencies and institutions of higher education. High poverty schools need sufficient funds, effectively and efficiently used, to achieve established outcome goals and prepare their students for high school graduation and for post-secondary education or the workforce.

School districts located in high socioeconomic regions tend to have tax bases that support much higher than average per pupil expenditures. For example, see some New Jersey data at The article indicates that Newark’s per-pupil expenses are 30% above the state average. Interestingly, Newark’s high schools have a very high dropout rate as compared with the state average.

I live in Lane County, Oregon.  Data from a 1999 report available at show several school districts in my county spending more than $14,000 per pupil and several spending less than $8,500 per pupil in Lane County.

Final Remarks

It seems strange to me that the issue of setting national standards is receiving far more media coverage than the issue of inequity of funding. Online learning will help to narrow the gap between educational opportunities available to students in well-funded and poorly-funded school districts. The U.S. Federal Government could help a great deal in this area by substantially increasing funding for the development of high-quality online courses that are made available free to all students throughout the country.

What You Can Do

The steadily increasing availability of free online educational materials can be used to open up a whole new world of learning for students. Students need to learn more about the opportunities that are available and how to make effective use of the free online resources. Each individual teacher, parent, and teacher of teachers can contribute to this task.

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.

A new kind of learner. See

Assessment of the new math standards. See  

Grading the states on their science standards. See

Personalizing education content and delivery. See

Purposes of education. See

To be a successful online learner. See


Baker, D., Sciarra, D., & Farrie, D. (September, 2010). Is school funding fair? A national report card. Retrieved 8/1/2012 from

Ujifusa, A. (4/3/2012). New state, local dynamic emerges in school funding. Education Week. Retrieved 8/1/2012 from    

U.S. Census (2012.). Public elementary–secondary education finance data: 2010 data. Retrieved 8/1/2012 from




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David Moursund (website) on Monday, 10 June 2013 23:46
Funding very early educational interventions

Written by davem, August 01, 2012.

The article does not discuss the funding of birth through PreK education. The quality of informal education that children receive in their homes and communities varies widely. Well done early interventions can make a huge difference.

Written by davem, August 01, 2012. The article does not discuss the funding of birth through PreK education. The quality of informal education that children receive in their homes and communities varies widely. Well done early interventions can make a huge difference.
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