University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

And Now, For Some Good News

In The View from the OEP on April 1, 2015 at 12:03 pm

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In the midst of all of the education-related controversy (and hyperbole) in early March about HB 1733, HB 1377, and PARCC testing (HB 1241: The Fate of PARCC in Arkansas and Testing in Progress: Please Do Not Disturb!), some very good news for Arkansas was quietly shared in the March 12th edition of the Washington Post. The Post reporter dug into some tables generated by the National Center for Education Statistics and came up with the unhappy conclusion that “In 23 states, richer school districts get more local funding than poorer districts”.

In Arkansas, however, the poorest students receive MORE dollars per pupil than do students of our state’s most affluent districts.  This is true for either type of per pupil expenditure (just state and local funding, or state, local and federal funding combined). To learn more about the actual data, here is a link to one of the key spreadsheets documenting our state’s success at improving funding equity for low-income students.

What this table highlights is that, in Arkansas in 2011-12, the current expenditures per pupil for ALL students was $9,215 (cell C9 of worksheet).  However, specifically for students in high-poverty districts in Arkansas, the current expenditures per pupil was $9,737.  This funding level exceeds the funding allocated to students in the least-poverty-stricken districts by more than 11%.  This funding disparity, in favor of the state’s poorest students, places Arkansas well above the national average and in a better position than 30 other states!

If you have followed OEP reports in the past, you may know that we’ve written about school funding equity in the past several times.  Here are some of our reports:

School funding equity is particularly important in Arkansas because of the longstanding and important Lake View school funding lawsuit.  In our analyses of funding equity seven long years ago, after several years of funding under the new school finance model, we wrote:

“Arkansas policymakers have achieved a great deal over the past few years, increasing overall funding substantially statewide, particularly in districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students… Moreover, policymakers have enacted policies to enhance the equity of our system through dramatic funding increases to small school districts, districts serving our most disadvantaged students, districts serving high percentages of minority students, and districts whose students are struggling academically… Arkansas lawmakers have spent the last several years increasing the resources allocated to K-12 education, eliminating gaps in resources between rich and poor students.”

In that context, the results presented recently by the National Center for Education Statistics provide further evidence that our new state funding formula has succeeded not only in equalizing spending between rich and poor, but actually in allocating additional resources toward our state’s poorest students.  This is GREAT NEWS!

Unfortunately, the news is not all good.  As we noted in our study of achievement gaps just this past year, stubborn achievement gaps persist between our state’s affluent and economically disadvantaged students.   We have made great headway in equalizing resources; now our educational leaders need to redouble their efforts to devise innovative strategies to improve outcomes for the students we have been under-serving for years.

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