Will More Money Really Help Poor Students?

schoolby James A. Bacon

Once upon a time, the liberal critique of Virginia’s school funding system was that schools with rich kids got more money per student than schools with poor kids. The state of Virginia moved to address funding inequalities two-and-a-half decades ago. Now liberals have raised the bar. It’s not enough to provide equal resources. Now the state needs to provide poor students with more money per student than affluent students. Perhaps a lot more.

“The fact is it costs substantially more to help low-income students reach similar levels of performance as students from wealthier families,” states a new report by the Commonwealth Institute, a left-of-center think tank focusing on Virginia issues. “Studies in New York and Wisconsin find it can cost two to two-and-a-half times as much to educate lower-income students. Other studies in California, Kansas, and Missouri find costs ranging between 55 to 64 percent more.”

In Virginia, says the report, Virginia contributes 14 to 19 percent more per low-income student than other students. Yet that’s not enough, the authors say. Some other states do even more.

Virginia has more than 512,000 disadvantaged kids in its public schools, about four out of ten students.

These students face serious challenges that can make success in the classroom more difficult. For instance, they are more likely to have distractions in their home life, such as moving frequently, hunger, and parents coping with substance abuse. Many do not have the luxury of outside resources, such as private tutoring, that students from higher-income families may receive. They are less likely to be involved in organized activities like music lessons, clubs, or sports teams that can lead to social and mental development.

So, what’s the solution? The Commonwealth Institute says Virginia should increase funding for its “At-Risk Add-on,” a program created in 1992 to compensate for the fact that poor students cost more to educate than better-off students. The program pays 1% to 13% more funding per low-income student, depending upon the concentration of low-income students in the school district. The Commonwealth Institute proposes increasing that payout to 1% to 25%. “Making this adjustment would almost double the state’s share of add-on funding and would increase state support in Virginia’s highest poverty schools by more than $200 per student.”

Bacon’s bottom line. There are a number of issues here. Should we adopt the principle that it is the state’s obligation to provide a level of funding sufficient to ensure that poor kids have comparable educational outcomes to other kids? Rejiggering the At-Risk Add-On formula to steer an extra $200 per student to poor schools won’t get there. Once it’s apparent that $200 is not enough to make a difference, the Commonwealth Institute’s logic would suggest that there is no limit to what we would be morally obligated to pay.

Further, it is ridiculous to say, as the Commonwealth Institute does, that extra money for poor students “would not take away from school divisions in better off communities.” More money for the At Risk-Add On program has to come from somewhere — the pot of money the state uses to provide state aid to public education. Skimming more money off the top for poor schools would leave less to be distributed among all schools. How reasonable is it to ask middle-class families, who pay sales and property taxes to support schools in their own communities, to do with less so the kids of poor families, who already get 14% to 19% more state support than kids from middle-class families, can get even more — even as poor families pay very little into the system themselves?

It is especially unreasonable to dock funding for middle-class students when there is no guarantee that extra money would actually improve educational outcomes in schools plagued by disciplinary breakdowns, bloated and incompetent district administrations, decrepit school buildings suffering from short-changed maintenance, and a host of other ills. The underlying assumption of the Commonwealth Institute is that poor educational outcomes of poor kids is a problem that only more money can solve. That’s just not true.

I’m not heartless. I understand that little kids are not responsible for the poverty of their parents. I’d like to live in a country where poor kids get a decent shot at succeeding in life. I’m just not convinced that what we’ve been trying for the past 50 years is working, nor that doing more of the same, only with more money taken from the middle class, is the solution.

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18 responses to “Will More Money Really Help Poor Students?

  1. You have to ask yourself – what is the intended purpose of additional Title 1 funding …

    Its specifically intended to provide ADDITIONAL resources for at-risk kids over and above their normal instruction.

    You say you don’t think it has helped.

    Do you know for a fact that schools that get Title 1 funding actually end up
    spending those funds on ADDITIONAL teaching resources?

    So – do you KNOW how much money is spent on EACH school in Henrico?

    Do you think the Title 1 schools in Henrico get their full share of State and Local funding – PLUS the additional Title 1 funding?

    They’ve looked into this and the results are not good:

    “More Than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don’t Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds, Department of Education Research Finds”

    ” In 23 states, richer school districts get more local funding than poorer districts”

    there are many more examples that School districts are not using the Title 1 funding as intended and instead are using it as regular funding not supplemental funding.

    the new NCLB law now called ESSA – for Every Student Succeed ACT is going to change this

    It will REQUIRE that EACH SCHOOL demonstrate that they not only got ALL the Federal, State and Local funding that other schools got – PLUS ALSO, in addition, their Title 1 money.

    the new rule is called SUPPLEMENT – not SUPPLANT

    and my guess is that it’s going to show for counties like Henrico and others in Virginia that School districts were using Title 1 money to SUPPLANT funding instead of truly SUPPLEMENTING it.

    If your friend Cranky actually did his SGP data on a per school basis – instead of a per school district basis – you’d see huge differences BETWEEN schools in the SAME district.

    We already know this – that is the folks that actually have specifically looked at SOLs for each school in the districts.

    Finally – it’s not a question of ” understanding that little kids are not responsible for the poverty of their parents” – it’s a question of do you want to really find out why and fix it.

    It’s a question of you – and your kids paying for their entitlements after they leave school Welfare, medicAid, food stamps, school lunches, etc – we’re paying for these things – because we insist on being willfully ignorant about what the real problem is.

    Don’t feel sorry for those kids. Feel sorry for your own kids – tax burdens because this is what we are passing on to them.

    When you actually do provide Title 1 resources – in addition to the basic instruction – it DOES WORK – and there are schools that prove this but there are far too many other schools in low income neighborhoods where school districts short-fund and short-staff those schools – and we’re going to find it with the new law. because it requires them to disclose the total funding on a per school basis.

  2. Thanks… er…. okay.

    Title 1 funding is a scandal because many school districts just use it as part of the overall funding such that the Title 1 schools don’t really get any more funding overall than non-Title 1 schools.

    It’s a dirty little secret that is going to get exposed by the updated NCLB law – one of the few pieces of legislation that actually made it through Congress and signed by the POTUS – in part because both left and right knew the current NCLB was being gamed by many school districts.

    they get away with it – until now – because they do not account for the funding and staffing on a per school basis.

    Your friend Cranky did SGP on a per school division basis.

    he ought to do it for all the schools WITHIN a school district to see what that shows – and my bet is that the low income neighborhood schools are going to show terrible SGP levels – consistent with their lower SOL scale scores which you can see if you run the VOE build-a-table for all the schools within a school district.

    but my suspects is that Cranky doesn’t really want to know – he just wants to be able to whack “bad” teachers… right?

  3. The cost of living varies widely across Virginia. The same income that would provide for a reasonably comfortable life in Lee County would present a struggle in Arlington county. Until our half-witted General Assembly can come to terms with economic realities like cost of living differentials I see no reason to give them any more money to waste. What they did with the tobacco indemnification funds should have resulted in criminal prosecutions. Oh wait, it did. Sorry … “more criminal prosecutions.”

  4. I am MORE THAN WILLING to REQUIRE that taxpayer dollars for schools be given to at-risk kids for vouchers for non-public schools – with one proviso

    they have to meet the same standardized test standards and SGP standards. They have to demonstrate they actually do a better job.

    I think it’s crystal clear what happens in many public school divisions these days – where the schools are sited according to neighborhoods – and the school districts that serve low-income neighborhoods are strongly suspected of short-funding and short-staffing those low-income schools and if we forced them to disclose funding and staffing specifics – we’d confirm it. The new NCLB law is going to require that.

    Forget about the current advocacy for SGP – it’s just a stupid ideological witch hunt that has no purpose other than to “prove” that public schools fail – without any advocacy for an alternative other than to fund de-facto private schools – with no equivalent accountability standards.

    Half are just clueless folks in denial about what is really going on as long as their kids are okay – and the other half- witless ideologues – who just want to undermine and damage the public school system and essentially allow folks to use tax dollars to send their kids to de-facto private schools which – again would not be accountable for how they would educate the same at-risk kids and likely would not even accept at-risk kids to begin with.

  5. Fairfax County spends Title I money and associated state money on low-income students. The County also supplements those funds with $64 M in local tax dollars, as I recall. Class sizes in Title I schools is often in the teens. Whereas in some areas of the county, there are elementary school classes with more than 30 students. It reached the point, where the superintendent and the school board set aside $10 M to reduce those very large classes.

    It strikes me that it likely costs more to educate low-income kids, especially when they come from families that often don’t have a working command of English. I support Title I, the additional state funding and a reasonable amount of additional local funds for Title I kids. I do, however, oppose any distinguishing among non-Title I schools or students. Likewise, there must be some reasonable limits on class sizes at the extreme. For example, it might be reasonable to keep Title I class sizes in the upper teens to avoid elementary class sizes at or above 30 in non-Title I schools.

    But we must also accept the fact we will never have equal outcomes on a broad basis. The horses must drink the water. And not all kids, be they poor, moderate income or wealthy, take advantage of the educational opportunities presented to them.

    As I posted earlier, last fall I attended a meeting where a high-level employee of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority shared some thoughts on education and economic growth. Our speaker noted a strong trend among many Hispanic immigrant families in Fairfax County to urge their children to leave school before high school graduation in order to get a job or get married because those actions effectively benefit the families involved. While all students should be encouraged to finish high school and, indeed, get training and instruction beyond, we cannot be held responsible for decisions freely made by others to minimize the perceived value of education. Just throwing more money at problems doesn’t work. At some point, personal responsibility trumps the almighty tax dollar.

    • If you look at Cranky’s Blog for average SGP – Fairfax is among the best divisions in the state – and the largest – so they do a GOOD job and the stats bear it out.

      It’s true you can’t fix all ills – but we have some particularly bad school divisions in Va – and unlike Fairfax – they are short staffing and short funding schools in low income neighborhoods – with horrible consequences – compared to other school districts that actually do succeed

      Of course – it’s a scandal to start with when it’s the Feds that have fund Title 1 because most counties in Va would not – then they actually corrupt that by missing the funds.

      and AGAIN – I am MORE THAN HAPPY to entertain non-public alternatives using tax dollars – as long as we hold them to the same transparency and accountability standards – specifically for the at-risk kids.

      whats going on right now – is a sneaky campaign to use tax dollars for de-facto private schools – reminiscent of Massive Resistance.

    • here’s that chart TMT:

  6. The basic assumption that all of you make is that every student has equal mental ability. Do you also think that every student has equal athletic skills? Perhaps you are assuming only that every group of students has the same average mental ability. Do you also think that every group of students has the same average athletic ability?

    • @Fred – that’s totally not the case. The current approach advocated by the ignorant is that if the kid is not a stand-out athletically – we abandon them.

      that’s what we are doing – because some say it’s “too expensive” and others descend into “it’s the genes” idiocy.

      the point is these kids grow up – and even folks at the margins can learn a trade – Even Goodwill does it. so we have to match the education to the kids – not everyone goes to college but you do have to be able to read and write even to get basic jobs these days.

      we ARE walking away from these kids in 3rd grade! 3rd grade – we use these ignorant excuses about genes and not all are created equal and other wretched foolishness coming from people who apparently can’t think themselves.

  7. Different genes, different cognitive ability. Period!

  8. if you could back up the gene assertion with facts -you might have something. but claiming it without proof is just plain old unbridled ignorance .

    and the bigger point is – even if it were true – it’s still no excuse for equipping them with the education they can learn and graduate doing a job the can do.

    the idea that because they are “behind” means we walk away and your kids will end up paying for their entitlements is just plain dumb.

    that’s the problem with this kind of thinking. You cannot wish the problems away. You have to deal with them.

  9. ” it’s still no excuse for NOT equipping them with the education they can learn and graduate doing a job the can do.”

  10. re: ” Should we adopt the principle that it is the state’s obligation to provide a level of funding sufficient to ensure that poor kids have comparable educational outcomes to other kids? ”

    the “outcome” that you want is NOT relative to other kids and it’s not some vague idea of “outcome”

    the outcome we should all want is a high school graduate that has enough education and skills so they can support themselves and not be a tax burden on those “other” kids who had “good outcomes”.

    When you abandon a child in the 3rd grade – what are you expecting to happen?

  11. HCJ – can you be honest guy?

    ” Is Intelligence Hereditary?”

    ” W e are talking about average differences among people and not about individuals. Any one person’s intelligence might be blown off course from its genetic potential by, for example, an illness in childhood. By genetic, we mean differences passed from one generation to the next via DNA. But we all share 99.5 percent of our three billion DNA base pairs, so only 15 million DNA differences separate us genetically. And we should note that intelligence tests include diverse examinations of cognitive ability

    and skills learned in school.

    Intelligence, more appropriately called general cognitive ability, reflects someone’s performance across a broad range of varying tests.

    Genes make a substantial difference, but they are not the whole story. They account for about half of all differences in intelligence among people, so half is not caused by genetic differences, which provides strong support for the importance of environmental factors.”

    and the real point here HCJ and like-minded is even if your premise is 100%true -what would you propose ? To not educate those with lower IQs? To have a “cut-off” IQ below which we write you off as eligible for a real public education?

    what is your plan other than blame the genes and walk away and let taxpayers pick up the downstream entitlement costs?

  12. ” even if your premise is 100%true -what would you propose ? ”

    Equal opportunity, not equal outcome. This is, after all, still America.

    I am eligible to try out for the team but I still can’t dunk the basketball.

  13. Larry G: Where is your proof for the statement: “Genes … account for about half of all differences in intelligence among people, so half is not caused by genetic differences, which provides strong support for the importance of environmental factors.”
    The SAT was primarily an IQ test. If the “education gap”, evident in the SAT scores, is a measure of IQ, all the money in the world will not close the gap. The best measure of school effectiveness is the performance of students with the same IQ — not with the same skin color.

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