Understanding how school districts allocate resources across students and schools is important for designing efficacious and equitable school finance policies. Newly released school-level spending data allow for new insights about the level of spending a student experiences at her school and how well spending corresponds with student characteristics.
In this report, we use school-based expenditure data from Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab (National Education Resource Database on Schools data)—linked with Common Core of Data information on school-level race and ethnicity, free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL), and direct certification data—and school enrollment data to provide a descriptive analysis of the relationship between spending progressivity and demographic stratification within and across school districts.
We show that districts’ ability to allocate funding for different groups depends on the underlying distribution of students within the district. To be a “highly progressive” district or state for low-income or minority students means being a highly economically or racially stratified one. A perfectly integrated school district or state, on the other hand, could not allocate funding in a way that advantaged one group or another. Measures of resource equity using school-level spending data must account for the fact that more stratified districts can more easily allocate dollars to students with the most need, relative to more integrated districts.
We find that in most states, Black students tend to experience higher school-level spending, on average, than white students. In seven states, average school spending in large districts (i.e., those with 10 or more schools) is higher for white students than for Black students. Decomposition results show that policies to enact within-district resource targeting would have varying impacts across states: in some states, differences in spending between Black and white students is attributable to between-district factors, while in others, it is attributable to within-district allocations. Federal dollars also play an important role, increasing spending for Black students relative to white students within nearly every state. Absent federal dollars, eight additional states would spend less on Black students than on white students.
Our results suggest that, whenever possible, policymakers should embrace an approach that views diversity and increased funding as powerful tools to be used in combination. Policymakers can “double down” on educational equity by addressing both within-district and between-district stratification and by expanding funding for schools and districts that have larger shares of students with need. In highly integrated school districts, policymakers may want to further probe the provision of supplemental instruction or services for students with additional needs within schools to ensure all students in a school receive an equitable education.