Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/mon/31110editschoolgap.html

Education gap
The Arizona Daily Star
November 10, 2003

Opinion Editorial

The most obvious factor in determining whether a child will get a good or a bad education is money. Children in wealthy school districts outperform students in poor districts.

Educators generally agree that more money is necessary in order to properly educate students in low-income schools and districts.

But large funding gaps are still a problem throughout the country, including Arizona, The Education Trust reports. In fact, the study found that "in most states, school districts that educate the greatest number of low-income and minority students receive substantially less state and local money per student than districts with the fewest low-income and minority students."

Understanding how the gaps in funding create gaps in achievement is essential in this era of school reform. More important, the gaps in income must be addressed if high-poverty schools hope to meet the challenge of the president's "Leave No Child Behind"initiative.

Arizona ranked among those with a significant funding gap. That gap between low-poverty and high-poverty districts grew by $848 between 1997 and 2001, according to the report. The figures include a 20 percent adjustment for poor students.

Another disturbing statistic shows that Arizona schools with the lowest numbers of minority students in 2001 received $5,875 per student. High minority schools received $5,113 per student, for a difference of $762 less. Those figures include a 40 percent cost adjustment for low-income students.

Education Trust singled out Arizona to show how the gap affects school funding for low-income students. For instance, it said that the difference between two typical classrooms of 25 students each would amount to $36,225. The difference between schools of 400 students would be $579,600. Again, the figures represent a 40 percent adjustment for low-income students.

According to the report, one of the ways to reduce the discrepancies is to reduce the reliance on local property taxes. It makes sense when considering that high wealth districts have more to tax than low wealth districts.

States also need to target low-wealth schools with additional money according to the number of poor students.

Arizona uses a mixture of local property taxes and state funds. Some districts have begun to pour more funding and other educational resources into high-poverty, low performing schools. Yet the gaps remain.

The report noted that the adjustments in funding for high-poverty schools has traditionally been a 20 percent increase. But more and more states and schools are moving to provide a 40 percent increase in funding for high-poverty schools.

Of course, it would be unwise to believe that funding is the only determinant of whether schools and districts provide a sound education. Good teachers, smaller classes and clear standards are among the many requirements needed. But Arizona cannot hope to see widespread achievement increases without making increased funding a priority for low-income students.