Another Scheme to Address School Funding “Inequity”

Source: Urban Institute

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Board of Education will convene next week to consider a proposal to create a $350 million “equity fund” to pay for additional teachers and targeted compensation, reports Radio IQ. Details of the proposal have not yet been posted on the board website, so we may have to wait until the board meeting to get specifics.

Radio IQ quotes Chris Duncombe at the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis as saying that distributing money based on poverty would create more equity in the system. “Virginia actually right now is spending less per student in the school divisions with the highest child poverty rates when you’re looking at state and local funds compared to school divisions with the lowest child poverty rates or the greatest wealth.”

Kristen Blagg with the Urban Institute also says that the special needs of English language learners also need to be considered. “When we are thinking about equity and we are thinking about distributing funds equitably, student poverty is a very important and very large need. But so are the other needs that the students may have.”

What the heck is going on? The state’s funding formula already favors poor school districts! So does federal funding! If total per-student funding is unequal, it’s because the “poor” districts are not taxing within their capacity to pay.

The Urban Institute’s own numbers from this 2018 study show that students in poverty receive almost identical funding on average to  students not in poverty, and students “of color” (not clear if that includes Asians or not) receive slightly more than whites. (See graph above.) That’s funding from “the state and local districts.” Conveniently for the case the Urban Institute is making, the numbers exclude federal funding, which is skewed toward high-poverty districts, and they don’t break out state funding so we can see what’s happening there.

The state divvies up its support for K-12 in four buckets: Standard of Quality funding, incentives, categorical, and lottery proceeds. I added up total spending for all categories for each state based on data in the 2017-18 state superintendent’s report, calculated per-student support for each locality, and then plotted that against the poverty rate for each locality. The graph below shows a strong (though far from perfect) correlation between state support and poverty rates.

The correlation is not perfect because some localities — Alexandria and the City of Richmond are good examples — have high poverty rates and high “ability to pay” based upon the strength of their tax bases. Another confounding factor is that these numbers don’t account for vast differences in the cost of living between Northern Virginia, the smaller metros, and rural school districts.  But anyone whose memories extend back to the Wilder era when the current funding formula was set into place knows that the purpose was for the state to redress “funding inequities” resulting from the disparity in local ability to pay. In other words, the current formula already has wealth-distribution built in. As a consequence, wealthy Fairfax County/City of Fairfax received $3,498 per student in 2017-18, the affluent City of Richmond received $5,964 per student, and poverty-ridden Charlotte County received $9,433 per student.

Bacon’s bottom line: The state funding formula favors poor districts, and federal funding favors poor districts. But that doesn’t stop the Urban Institute and Commonwealth Institute from decrying funding inequities.

Now, let’s talk about taxing inequities. Middle-class taxpayers are asked to fund the redistributionist schemes of the federal government and the redistributionist schemes of the state government, in addition to supporting their own local schools. Now the Virginia Board of Education is contemplating skimming some $350 million off the top of the $6.7 billion in total state funding (2017-18) — about 5% of the total — in order to devote even more money to schools with poor kids.

If the progressives pushing this proposal want to undermine public support for public education, this is how to do it. It’s one thing to ask middle-class taxpayers to subsidize the education of poor kids to the same level of funding that the taxpayers’ kids are getting. It’s political dynamite to expect middle-class tax payers to spend more on other kids than their own kids — especially when there is precious little evidence that more money makes a difference and that the money won’t run down a rat-hole of failing school districts.

If Republicans had any brains, they’d be pounding this issue hard in the closing days of the General Assembly elections. But I’ve seen no evidence that they have any more intelligence than a glow-worm, so they’re not likely to utter a peep. Of course, you can count on the media to parrot the funding “inequity” angle of the liberal think tanks without conducting the slightest skepticism or searching for alternative views. I’d say the odds are pretty good that this idea will get enshrined in the next budget.

New Jersey, here we come!

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33 responses to “Another Scheme to Address School Funding “Inequity”

  1. “If Republicans had any brains … ”

    C’mon Jim – you know better than that. Hooterville is all the RPV has left. The slightly disguised socialists who call themselves Republicans in Virginia are only too happy to up the wealth transfer. They lost NoVa, they lost Henrico, they’ve lost the suburbs where the looting will happen. They’re just buying votes in rural Virginia with other people’s money like usual.

    There is no Republican Party in Virginia. There are socialists who call themselves Democrats and socialists who call themselves Republicans.

    As for failing to take cost of living or ESOL into account – that just what the Socialist Republican Party of Virginia wants. Lower costs of living mean the stolen money buys more in the hollows and ‘taint no ESOL in Dogpatch.

    You’ve been abandoned Jim. Left for dead by the RPV.

  2. Don, you are a variant of the KKK, living in a fantasy world fueled by your own self hate. You need to get beyond it.

    • Reed,

      You might want to think long and hard about your commentary. I’m a variant of the KKK? I have no idea what that even means and I’m sure you don’t either. You should seriously re-consider comments comparing people on this blog with the KKK. I guarantee that you’d hate to meet me in person one day and have to explain that comment to my face.

      I’m fueled by self-hate? Oh, I don’t hate myself. Not a bit. I do have a particularly cold spot in my heart for phonies like Virginia’s Republicans and for blowhards like the first families of Virginia. Is it fair to assume that you’re a member of both?

      If you want to defend the Republicans in Virginia … feel free to write such a defense and send it to Jim Bacon for publication. Of course that would assume you are literate enough to do so.

  3. I think we’d ALL be better-informed if we knew the funding PER SCHOOL for all schools within a district.

  4. re: “If Republicans had any brains, they’d be pounding this issue hard in the closing days of the General Assembly elections.”

    do you mean statewide including in NoVa and other urban districts are just in rural Va ans suburbs?

    What we do not have is funding PER SCHOOL. I’d like to see how much money in spent in EACH SCHOOL in Henrico for example.

    • Ask yourself why we don’t have access to spending-per-student broken down at the school level. Could it be because the educational establishment doesn’t want the public to know?

      • well there’s a LOT they won’t release unless forced because it will become ammunition for those who want to undermine public education and encourage more (less or unaccountable) charter, non-public school options.

        But studies have been done using US Dept of Ed data (which schools DO have to report to them) and that data shows there are disparities between schools that are masked over at the district level.

      • Of course we don’t get individual school data and the administrators don’t want the public to know. Fairfax County Schools refused to provide class size data for middle schools. Residents went to Delegate Kathleen Murphy who got a bill passed that forced disclosure. Why didn’t administrators want the information made public? Because they were making class sizes in middle schools significantly larger in areas where they thought were too rich.

        There is a deep state in this country and it permeates all levels of government. Bureaucrats and their elected official and MSM enablers want to work their agendas outside the view of the public.

        Whether or not it “undermines” public education is immaterial. Short of national defense, individual information, litigation strategy and government purchasing, there is no valid reason for withholding information from public eyes.

  5. Been expecting and predicting this. I’m sure the argument will be, do this minor thing in the funding formula because it will be cheaper than the outcome you will face from real litigation, litigation which completely rewrites the funding formula. Your bar chart above is somewhat misleading, with the scale starting at $10K and going only up to $10.7. It really shows very level funding, and the argument will be level is not fair, certain populations need far more. The right judge will readily agree and there is precedent.

  6. Posted on behalf of Dick Hall-Sizemore:

    As much as I worry about rural areas, I get exasperated with them. Rural areas have historically pled poverty and many have been sympathetic to their plight. As Jim points out, funding formulas, the K-12 SOL formula chief among them, are geared to help poor areas. But, on the other hand, some counties are not above boasting that they have the lowest property tax rates in the state. And, state data bears out that they often are not doing enough to help themselves.

    The Commission of Local Government is a small agency, now a sub-agency, tucked into the state bureaucracy. Its primary function is to mediate annexation matters. But it also has the statutory duty to calculate the fiscal stress index of local governments. The Commission’s full report on local fiscal stress is here ( and makes interesting reading for policy wonks. For my purposes here, two components of the measurement of fiscal stress are relevant: revenue capacity and revenue effort. The Commission uses the following definitions:

    • Revenue capacity: how much tax revenue a locality could collect per person from its base if it used statewide average rates. (A locality’s base consists of its true value of real estate, true value of public service corporation real estate, registered vehicles, local option sales tax receipts, and adjusted gross income.)
    • Revenue effort: own-source revenue collections divided by revenue capacity

    The calculated local revenue efforts are enlightening. A locality that is collecting revenue at its computed capacity would receive a score of 1.0. (For every $1.00 of capacity, the locality would be collecting $1.00, based on statewide average rates.) “On average, revenue effort for Virginia counties is 0.8843. On the other hand, Virginia cities have an average effort of 1.2941. In other words, cities are collecting above their computed capacities relative to the state average, while counties are collecting far below theirs.” The map below dramatically shows the results: Even though they may be “poor”, many of the rural counties are bringing in less revenue than they could if they had used just the average state tax rates. Not only does their capacity to raise revenue fall below statewide averages, their efforts to help themselves fall short.

    For followers of this blog, here are some specific effort scores:

    Prince William—1.0181

    • “And, state data bears out that they often are doing enough to help themselves.”

      Presume you meant not doing enough to help themselves.

    • But all of these bills pass with support from NoVA. Our local legislators refuse to hold the line on more money for rural education unless there is a minimum local tax effort. This exists in many other states’ formulas for state aid.

      People who live in NoVA are the least sophisticated voters in the State. And many of our legislators are true Quislings.

  7. For all of the county school districts in Virginia in 2012, the correlation coefficient between SAT and average teacher salary is 0.48; however, if the SAT is corrected for school demographics, the correlation coefficient is only 0.07. This shows that the teacher salary has no significant impact. The demographics tells the story. I have not updated my analysis to more recent years, but I doubt there would be any difference because the racial performance gap has changed little.

    • The kids that we worry about, the economically disadvantaged, will be less likely to take the SAT. My gut tells me that the SAT-takers would be disproportionately clustered in those school divisions with the higher teacher salaries, to which the better teachers tend to migrate. A better correlation might be between SOL scores and average teacher salary or graduation rates and teacher salary.

      • A couple years ago, a high-level official from the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority spoke at a meeting with McLean Citizens Association members. The discussion included how education affects economic development. We talked about the good, bad and indifferent.

        One of the negative items was information from the EDA that many Hispanic families push their kids to stop their education at 12th grade or even drop out to find jobs and bring in more money for their families. While disturbing, this is not an unbelievable situation as it most certainly occurred with prior generations. But it cannot help get more kids good educations that should include some post-HS training that can include community college, trade schools or apprenticeships. Culture clash.

  8. Unfortunately, nothing will happen here despite giving these schools more money. For positive change, the way these kids are taught must be changed. That is all that is needed. This has been proven over and over again, but these schools refuse to change to ways proven time and again to work. See, for example, the Success Academies in New York. See, in Virginia the schools in West Point. For that start with recent posts here titled There’s Something in the Water, part 1 and 2, including comments by Maria Paluzsay.

    We need to start requiring kids to learn to read and write and speak properly so they can succeed in the world they need to live in. Only by doing this constantly, reading, writing, and speaking in K-12 will they learn and gain the knowledge they require to empower them to success. This latest money solution is a dead end for kids and the experts know it. But the politicians are more interested in winning elections for themselves than they are in insuring teaching our kids what they need to know to succeed in life. It is a great human tragedy. Our children are paying an awful price.

    • Regarding Success Academies and how they fix these long chronic problems in city schools, here is a part of a fine article in the Oct. 3, 2019 edition of the Wall Street Journal written by its editorial board, the article titled Charter Schools Ace Another Test.

      “Still, says the study, “In general, our results suggest that charters really are boosting the achievement of black and Hispanic students, rather than ‘creaming’ the best students in these communities.”

      Tell that to the politicians in Manhattan, Boston and other areas that won’t let charters grow with demand. This year in New York City 47% of third through eighth graders passed the state English exam. At the city’s charter schools, the rate was 57%. For the Success Academy charter network, it was 90%.

      Yet Success Academy is having to fight city hall for the space to set up a new middle school in Queens. The charter network has more graduating elementary students there than its facilities can handle. “Without a middle school location,” it says, “up to 200 fifth graders will be forced to leave Success Academy next year and return to zoned schools where less than half of students are able to read or do math.” End Quote.

      For rest of editorial read:

      The central question here is why will not many failing public schools learn and incorporate in their schools the proven methods used in charters like Success Academy? Why will not these public schools do what would vastly improve the future of their student kids, and instead simply ask for ever more money? Is money all they care about, whether putting it in their pockets, or if politicians handing out money that belongs to other people to voters that they need to win elections?

  9. Reed and Don, please call a truce. If you want to duke it out, please do so off-line. Thanks.

  10. 1. – does the formula for “revenue capacity” adequately take into account the level of low-income/poverty in a jurisdiction rural or urban?

    Ask yourself WHY the state assesses jurisdictions with these criteria in the first place and bigger picture why is the State providing more help to some rather than let the localities decide?

    So.. is the State – achieving the goal it itends?

    The problem at the locality level no matter what the State does with it’s overall funding formula is that in the school districts with several/many schools where the neighborhood schools are essentially products of the income demographics of their neighborhood – do the actual low-income schools get MORE funding or not?

    That’s the issue.

    Most school districts do not pay a higher salary for teachers that teach the at-risk/harder-to-teach kids.. in fact, most veteran teachers, if given a choice will take a slot at the higher-income schools because it’s a better environment and less threat to being blamed for substandard academic performance.

    By the way, I have never ever seen anything at all from DJ that evokes hate or KKK “qualities”. I don’t see DJ as “going at it” here just defending himself from a pretty bad Ad Hominem attack.

    • The revenue capacity factor indirectly takes into account the wealth/poverty of a jurisdiction by using true value of real property as one of its components. The overall fiscal stress index produced by the Commission on Local Government also uses, in addition to capacity and effort, the median family income of the jurisdiction, which is a more direct indicator of wealth/poverty.

  11. It is Jim’s blog, not mine. Were it mine I’d end the comment string. I pulled back a while, got back in, and I’m going to back out again. It is getting very nasty here, Peter with his “s%$#” language, Don calling a former governor and U.S. senator he didn’t actually know or even directly observe “a rat bastard,” and it has gotten under my skin and I’ve posting things I regret. This was fun and on occasion educational, but this is becoming just another cultural sewer. Tired of it.

    • You’re welcome to your opinion. Here’s mine – this is no longer “Bacons Rebellion” or a rebellion of any kind. It has become “The Richmond Insiders’ Newsletter”. For example, lots of technically excellent articles detailing Dominion’s excesses but no perspective on how to stop those excesses. Great research but no hunt for the root cause. Dominion is over-recovering more than $1B. Why is Dominion able to do that? We all know the reason. They bought our state government. There are malevolent actors in the General Assembly who are willing to sell out their constituents in order to get so much unneeded “campaign contributions” from Dominion that they become kingmakers – able to use Dominion’s money to fund other campaigns. And when Dominion needs a favor these legislators are front and center to help.

      My frustration is that I believe the other contributors on this blog know that’s all true. But they are too genteel to address the elephant in the room – how to put Dominion in its proper place. Some writers want to provide an academic analysis and stop. That’s useful, no doubt. I want to take the academic analysis to the next step. Which politicians need to be publicly called out for their willingness to take Dominion money in return for favors?

      It’s Jim’s blog. Always has been. He can make the call. Cut and dried research and analysis or research and analysis with calls to action. I’ll be happy to work within either construct.

      • As far as … “Don calling a former governor and U.S. senator he didn’t actually know or even directly observe … ”

        Harry F Byrd, Sr left the US Senate in 1965. I was 6. Based on your LinkedIn profile, you were 11.

        • Well, all the more reason neither of us should use that kind of gutter description. But the difference is I knew dozens of people around him, from the political machine, so you are calling my grandfather, his brother, and plenty of others I did respect by that same name. Not appreciated. I knew his son, not well, but enough to talk at times (as noted, I was a kid reporter, but remember it’s a newspaper family.) I ran into a friend from the Flood side of the clan just the other day. You are smart enough not to need to go there, DJ.

          • The high school I attended was about 1/3 black, 1/3 white and 1/3 “other”. The parents of my black schoolmates were among the victims of Jim Crow and Massive Resistance. The fact that many of their fathers fought heroically in Korea meant nothing in Harry Byrd’s Virginia. You’ll never convince me that Harry F Byrd, Sr should be lionized with statues and road names in Virginia. He may not have been the devil incarnate but he should be nobody’s hero either.

  12. I do not know the details of the proposed policy. I am curious to know what the figures might be, when factoring in fundraising and the labor value of volunteers who support academics. One can find PTA’s in NoVA with professional-level websites; parents and local businesses may fund major expenses such as elective teachers, afterschool programs, and equipment. I imagine that robust booster programs free up the official school budget, or provide for resources that would not otherwise be there.

    • Policy Student:

      As a NoVa “lifer” and graduate of Fairfax County public schools, I am sure you are right. I was always impressed by the level of parental involvement at Langley High School where my son attended and graduated.

      What are the policy implications of active parents in certain school districts? Just an observation? An example to be emulated elsewhere? A basis for lowering government funding of schools with active / generous parents and local businesses?

  13. Steve says: “It is Jim’s blog, not mine. Were it mine I’d end the comment string. I pulled back a while, got back in, and I’m going to back out again. It is getting very nasty here, Peter with his “s%$#” language, Don calling a former governor and U.S. senator he didn’t actually know or even directly observe “a rat bastard,” and it has gotten under my skin and I’ve posting things I regret. This was fun and on occasion educational, but this is becoming just another cultural sewer. Tired of it.”


  14. The greater problem here is that (1) rural localities are facing a demographic shortfall and (2) no one has the guts to scrap the LCI in favor of asking Richmond to pick up its constitutionally-mandated responsibility to provide a free and quality education.

    Now there are any variety of tools available to us to do this. But it would require the sort of give and take that most public school administrators will neither countenance nor tolerate in practice.

    Trying to make the rural student “worth more” in the funding formula in order to prop up rural schools is a band aid solution where a tourniquet is required. The balkanization of public education where school boards rubber stamp budgets isn’t working; the LCI isn’t working; the SOLs aren’t working; charter schools aren’t working; teachers’ unions aren’t working… the cookie-cutter approach to public education isn’t working.

    We all know what the solution is going to entail. It’s a combination more funding for education, a state imposed pay scale for all teachers across Virginia, the elimination of tenure, and yes — school choice where the dollars follow the student.

    First, parents have to get mad… and that’s not happening anytime soon.

    • The reason that middle-class parents aren’t mad is that because their schools are pretty good. Maybe not great in most cases, but pretty good. The big losers from the current system is poor kids, especially poor inner-city kids. There is considerable pent-up demand among their families for something different. Maybe we don’t have to re-vamp the entire public school system — maybe we just need to create alternatives that allow poor kids to escape their failing systems.

    • I sympathize with the proposed solutions. However, there is a major problem. One major reason that school systems are unequal in quality is the unequal distribution of wealth in this state. Fairfax County can afford to spend a lot more than the state-required minimum per pupil amount, while Bland County (to pick one at random) can probably just manage to spend the required minimum. Are we going to prohibit localities from putting up more than their required share? Or, if the state is going to get rid of the LCI and fully fund the Standards of Quality, remember that the constitutionally-mandated SOQ is a minimum level. Are we then going to prohibit the wealthier localities from supplementing the state funding and the state-funded teacher salaries? Talk about parents and localities being up in arms!

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