Equitable funding for schools is requisite for student success. This is especially true for public schools in low-income communities, where the amount of money funneled into classrooms can have a significant impact on children’s academic achievement. One recent analysis of low-income fourth-graders’ achievement on a national reading test determined that spending an additional $1,000 per student correlated with a 0.42-point increase in test scores (the average test score is about 222). Given that at least 30 states are funding education at a lower level than before the recession, we shouldn’t be surprised that another study, conducted by Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon, found that the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is 30 percent to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than those born 25 years earlier.
Schools in the urban core do not have the necessary courses, facilities and services that help students cope with the effects of poverty. Let’s be clear: Schools that serve low-income students need more money, not less. You can’t cut your way toward academic improvement.
However, one governor tried.
Upon taking office in 2011, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from education statewide. Even worse, Corbett focused his cost-cutting school improvement plan on the School District of Philadelphia. Philadelphia educates 12 percent of Pennsylvania’s students but has endured 35 percent of the Corbett budget cuts, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
In Philadelphia, as in urban districts across the country, the idea that money isn’t an issue simply doesn’t hold water. We know that well-resourced schools and well-heeled students perform better. Reardon’s study found that family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement. The achievement gap between students from the wealthiest and poorest families is nearly twice as large as the achievement gap between black and white students, according to Reardon. Research has been clear on the positive impact of money on student success, particularly on standardized tests. The Shanker Institute found that “on average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes.” Yet, as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen recently pointed out, “The United States is one of the few advanced economies in which public education spending is often lower for students in lower-income households than for students in higher-income households.”