May 16, 2024

Leveling the Landscape: An Analysis of K-12 Funding Inequities Within Metro Areas

By Alex Spurrier | Bonnie O’Keefe | Biko McMillan

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Read more about how disparities in local revenue create inequities in overall education funding in a USA Today article​​​​​​​ that features this report.

At their best, K-12 public school systems can be engines of social and economic mobility. Unfortunately, schools in lower-income districts — whose students have the greatest academic needs — often receive less funding than their counterparts in more affluent districts.   

Discussions about closing these funding gaps usually zoom all the way out to the state level or all the way down to the district level. But a big part of the problem lies in how funding is distributed across districts in the same metro area — and in state policies that allow wealthy communities to raise and keep large amounts of local revenue exclusively for their own schools. Leveling the Landscape: An Analysis of K-12 Funding Inequities Within Metro Areas takes a closer look at the scale and sources of education funding within 123 large metro areas in 38 states, focusing on funding disparities among districts serving the same region. 

Key takeaways include: 

  • A majority of public school students (62%) live in large metro areas with more than five districts — a level of fragmentation that makes funding disparities more likely 
  • Within fragmented metro areas, wealthy districts often generate much more local funding per student than less affluent districts. 
  • State policies, despite their progressive tilt, rarely bridge this gap — and often don’t even come close.  
  • In 49 of the 123 large metro areas we examined, school districts in affluent areas receive the most funding per pupil. 
  • Closing the state and local funding gap between districts within the metro areas we examined would cost $26 billion in additional state funding per year 
  • More ambitious policies can greatly reduce or even eliminate funding disparities. 

The report also explores policy tools state leaders can use to ensure all districts within the same metro area at the very least receive similar funding per student and ideally, set the stage for even greater levels of per-pupil funding to flow to higher-needs districts.  


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