Poverty and School Funding: Why Low-Income Students Often Suffer

By Matthew Lynch

While the current U.S. economy continues to improve, there is one area that is still feeling the squeeze from the recession years: K-12 public school spending. Recently, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 34 states are contributing less funding on a per student basis than they did prior to the recession years. Since states are responsible for 44 percent of total education funding in the U.S., these dismal numbers mean a continued crack down on school budgets despite an improving economy.  In extreme cases, like in Philadelphia and Chicago, individual districts have had to tap into other money and reserves to cover the basics of public education in their areas.

Low-Income Students Hardest Hit

This is a particular blow to areas with high rates of poverty.  Students in these areas not only suffer from lack of resources at home, but their schools must also scrape by on the minimum. It’s not a secret that poverty is a major problem in the United States.  The middle class seems to be disappearing and the gap is widening between the upper class and the lower class sectors of society.  The socioeconomic status of children and their families has a profound effect on the children’s education, even in a country that prides itself on equal opportunity and fair treatment of all.  Funding to low-income Title I schools has decreased since 2010 and a number of states have cut pre-K educational per student funding in recent years and many have had to reduce enrollment numbers.

In practical terms, these findings make sense. Property taxes pay much of public education costs and that revenue source is still low. Overall, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that districts collected just over 2 percent lower on property taxes ending in March than in the year before. Furthering the problem is the fact that while states have been cut throat in reducing spending, they have not been as vigilant in raising revenue sources through taxes and fees.

Not Just a Student Problem

Less state spending on education certainly affects the learning experience but it also impacts other areas of the economy. Unemployed teachers and administrators have less to pump back into the economy and the viscous cycle of K-12 underfunding is furthered.  While unemployment is a factor in poverty for some, there are many who are employed and still live below the poverty line. A higher level of education is needed for high paying jobs that can support a family.  It is difficult to support a family with a minimum wage job, even when working full-time.  The conundrum is furthered when school funding is diminishing—removing one more source of hope for ending the cycle.

Children living in poverty often come to school without having had enough sleep, and without having had breakfast.  They often experience family violence, abuse, secondhand smoke, neglect, poor clothing and shoes.  Even though they have limited experiences in the world, they may not be able to pay for field trips and cannot pay for extracurricular activities of any kind, which could actually expand their experience base.  This is the frightening reality for millions of children, and teachers are very likely to have impoverished students in their class.  But, without the necessary resources to address these concerns, little improvement will be seen.

If we cannot fully fund our public schools how can we expect things like the achievement gap to close or high school graduation rates to rise? It was understandable that budgets had to be slashed when the bottom dropped out of the economy but now that we are in a more stable place, it is time to get back to funding what matters most: the education of our K-12 students.

What do you think?  Are our priorities in this country misguided?

photo credit: peasap via photopin cc

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

0 Replies to “Poverty and School Funding: Why Low-Income Students Often Suffer”

  1. Low-income students do suffer, and it’s just too bad. I feel for those children. I don’t know that our priorities in this country are misguided, though.

  2. Certainly the fact that low-income students suffer isn’t just their problem. It affects schools and their employees, too. This country will struggle to close the education gap if we can’t help our low-income students who come to school hungry and exhausted. It’s very sad and I wish I had a solution!

  3. Low-income students at low-income schools is our problem. Students who already don’t have additional experiences and resources like those from middle or upper class families then end up at schools with less experienced teachers and less technology. It’s a vicious cycle that has to be stopped. The more well-off families end up at the best schools. The gap is widening and will continue to unless America makes some changes.

  4. Yes, this is a major problem in today’s society. Unfortunately children are the victims of the choices made. It is easy to say that funding must go towards what matters most, the students. But in reality this has proven difficult to do. What matters most are high quality teachers, the resources for the students and these teachers, and the program’s meant to enhance the minds of these children, over and above core curriculum, like art, music and athletics. These areas are often cut to funnel money elsewhere, away from the core mission, often influenced by lobbyists and special interest groups. Funding doesn’t necessarily need to go up. But like in all corporations spending must be wise, efficient, and competitive. All areas of the business should be legitimately reviewed. Just like in government the wasteful spending cannot be accepted nor considered justified. Spend efficiently on non-core areas of the school district and funnel that money back into the classroom.

  5. The ball must be thrown back into the parents’ court. Public education is a fail because there are simply too many irresponsible parents who use school as childcare. Increasing funds do not raise academic performance in low-income areas as long as schools are forced to take in ill-behaved kids who have no regards for education and are disrupting students who want to learn. Asking Americans to invest in a population that yields no return because some liberals feel bad for the poor kids is virtue signaling at the highest level. Do some of you teachers ever really wonder what poor people think? Poor people in these districts want you to get rid of the non-productive poor people in their communities but how can that happen when you simply see everybody as the same. Believe it or not Liberals, but not all poor people are the same and the sooner you stop feeling bad about it, the sooner things will change for the good.

    A mother and teacher who was poor

  6. Unfortunately based on the comments here, no one gets the issue. As one of those kids, who has always experienced this life since day one and was never the priority in school or home life, it isn’t kind of anyone to just pretend like it’s not happening and instead “wish for it to get better” and not do anything. Millions of teachers and adults in school systems allow their low-income and poor population of students to keep doing what they do without any other regards in the world. While tons of you are all out existing and hoping this gets better without any actions towards the issue, you are making this harder than anyone could ever fathom. Children are going to school hungry, without having eaten in days or weeks, barely any clothing on their backs, and the clothing they do have probably isn’t even theirs– of course, it’s easy to look over those factors, it isn’t easy to look over how much we get bullied and ridiculed every single day just because we’re poor and we cannot participate. I always wanted to join in on field trips, and clubs, and even little activities for classes– but how much do they cost? Normally $20-$100. TEACHERS are charging students to do these things, to participate, and threaten kicking us from said activity because we can’t pay. Grading us on activities we can’t even participate in harms us too, we can’t buy what everyone else is, we can’t bring the food to that one kid’s birthday party (which leads to extreme bullying because they think we hate them or that we’re too “high and mighty” for it), teachers and adults alike need to realize they are the problem and need to fix their school systems and actually do something that could seriously change the graduation rates of schools across the globe. Just please, research this more and instead of sending your pity, do something hands-on, say something to people– we are not a conversation starter for your best friends to have pity on, we are the future and I hope it becomes important to everyone someday.

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