By Nathan D. Woods
Though many Americans may not know specifics of the impact of funding inequities, many do know that students tend to have a greater chance of living choice-filled lives if the respective school that they attend is well-funded. The Office of Education and Bureau of the Census studied the effects of inequity in education and they found that “public schools in America are provided sharply unequal funding. Among American school districts, annual funding per student can range from less than $4,000 to $15,000 or more per year, and although the ‘typical’ substantial school district receives roughly $5,000 per year for each students, affluent districts may receive $10,000 or more for their students.” It’s no wonder that students who attend schools in underserved communities are underperforming compared to their more affluent peers.
Funding for public education comes from three different sources: federal, state and local property taxes. Nearly half of the funds that are allocated for education come from local property taxes. This of course has significant implications when thinking about the economic differences between students who attend schools in wealthy communities and students who attend schools in more underserved and disadvantaged communities.
Making sure that students who live in underserved communities have access to high-quality teachers and high performing schools will most certainly help to narrow the achievement gap. Studies have shown that student achievement outcomes are directly correlated to the amount of funding and resources that are readily accessible to schools.
Words matter! I’ve heard many people use the words equality and equity interchangeably, but they are just not the same. The difference between equality and equity is nuanced, but it’s quite an important distinction that many don’t understand. Equality alludes to the identical apportionment of funds whereas equity denotes that there is fairness. Funding is only equitable when the systemic disadvantages of a particular subgroup of people are accounted for.
Let me paint a picture to make this a little more comprehensible. Equality is giving everyone the same shoes and the exact same sizes. Equity is giving everyone shoes but ensuring that everyone gets their respective shoe size and that the shoe is also true to size. The reality is that people are different. They have their own individual needs, which is precisely why “one size fits all” equality standards are unfair and this manifests itself in academic achievement comparison between “the have and the have nots”.
Moreover, inequity cannot be remedied through treating everyone equally rather it can be solved by treating everyone in an equitable manner, in which you must understand their circumstance. I’m not advocating for equality in funding, I’m advocating for equity because that’s the only way that we ensure that all students are getting the education that they deserve. Equality is not enough! Our kids are tired of waiting for fairness! Every student deserves to have the best consummate education no matter their zip code and the way to ensure this is to make funding equitable.
P.S. For folks who work in policy, it’s especially important to understand the nuanced differences between equality and equity. So, when you are making policy around funding, think about shoes. Lastly, when making policy for a particular group of people, it would help if you actually went into their neighborhood and spoke with them about their needs. That’s just a general rule of thumb!