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Is Poverty Taken into Consideration in K-12 funding?

By Mary Jean Ryan, Executive Director of Community Center for Education Results

There are many challenges in Washington State education funding, but a recent analysis shows that the state is also missing a crucial element in calculating their basic education funding allocations: addressing poverty, an issue that students across the state deal with daily.

The findings may surprise you – it turns out that our state turns a blind eye to the impacts of poverty when it sends out budget dollars to districts.

We delved into this topic because of the very high rates of poverty in the Road Map Project region – South King County and South Seattle, our geographic area of focus. Of the almost 125,000 students in the region, 59% are from low-income families and tens of thousands attend schools with very high concentrations of poverty. We wanted to understand what, if anything, the state is doing through the funding system to mitigate the effects of poverty.

The big learning for me was that the formulas used to calculate the “Basic Education Allocation” to the districts do not account for poverty. All students are treated the same in the prototypical school funding model. Other states – such as Delaware, Minnesota and Massachusetts – do a much better job of investing resources where they are most needed. Looking at various state comparisons, Washington is viewed as “flat” – overall we don’t penalize high poverty students but we don’t provide heightened investment either. It should also be noted that the analysis only looks at the money that flows from the state. The current local levy system contributes to this problem as well.

Resources alone will never be the silver bullet for improving student achievement, but it seems obvious that the level of resources provided can have a significant impact, including helping combat the impacts of concentrated poverty. Additional resources can provide things like:

  • access to quality early learning, extended learning and summer enrichment
  • effective and engaging instructional support
  • college and career advising and student health services
  • connecting students to exciting career possibilities

Resources can deliver some of the opportunities that middle-class families regularly provide their own kids. If we want students from a variety of circumstances and backgrounds to meet the same learning standards and reach their full potential, some of the inputs the state provides will need to vary to ensure additional supports for students who need them, whether it is additional instruction time to meet standards for graduation or setting them up for postsecondary success.

Equal funding is not equitable funding. Let’s get serious about equity and start investing resources where they are most needed.

The work was produced as a follow up to last year’s Follow the Money presentations and learning sessions. We reengaged with Third Sector Intelligence to create this technical amendment to Follow the Money. Read the full findings here.