School funding is a hot topic. But let’s break it down. How do schools get funding? Why do some schools have more money than others, even in the same city? And – does it cost more to educate a child in poverty?

Public school funding comes primarily from three things: federal government, state government and local taxes. The federal government contributes less than 10% of the total school budget, meaning most funding is highly variable depending on location. Even within a city or school district, funding can vary depending on local taxation. Schools in wealthier communities often receive more funding from local property or income tax than schools with a concentration of poverty. In short, schools in communities of poverty often have less money to begin with.

But imagine that all schools had equal funding. Let’s picture an elementary school with 400 students in a wealthy neighborhood and an elementary school with 400 low-income students in an impoverished community. Let’s imagine for a moment that their per-student funding is equal. Would we expect to see the same outcomes?

The truth is, it’s not just about equal funding. Children who grow up in poverty actually cost more to educate. Why? Children who come from communities of poverty are more likely to have higher levels of stress, which can inhibit cognitive functioning – aka learning. They’re less likely to have received quality prior education, so they enter kindergarten at an educational disadvantage. Their families are less likely to be able to afford school supplies or pay for field trips or extracurricular activities. They’re more likely to miss more days of school for health-related or transportation-related issues. And the list goes on.

We have a conundrum on our hands. The students who need the most funding are actually often receiving the least amount. Putting more money into schools in communities of poverty isn’t going to magically solve the problems of poverty. But if we want to make an impact, and if we truly want to give all children the opportunity to achieve their full potential, it’s an important place to start. 

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