Why It Matters
Data that are available, transparent, and accessible within a school district can be essential to assessing and improving equity.
Even when a district doesn’t have strong accountability systems and policies of its own, with good data, community members and activists can hold the district accountable.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the federal K-12 education law passed in December 2015 — requires states and school districts to make more than 2,000 data points about their public school systems available to families in a concise, understandable, and uniform format.
Some of the data that states could provide include chronic absenteeism, school discipline data, graduation rates, and financial information. See the full list of data points.
The law requires that student outcome data drive school classifications and school improvement efforts through a continuous cycle of reporting student data, issuing school classifications, and using collected data to inform local interventions and supports. The data are required to be disaggregated by race, income, English language proficiency, and other specified subgroups to ensure transparency in outcomes for all students.
Every state is required to have an accountability plan that includes measures on student growth and achievement in math and reading, progress towards English proficiency for multilingual learners, four year graduation rates, and a school quality and student success indicator. Every three years, the states must use their accountability plan to identify the state’s lowest performing schools, which will then receive appropriate support.
Every year, each state education agency must publish a statewide report card that must include data on academic achievement, attendance, participation in advanced coursework, discipline, per-pupil spending, teacher quality, graduation rates, and preschool enrollment. The purpose of the report card is to provide more transparency about school quality to families, educators, policy makers, advocates, and other stakeholders.
A 2021 analysis of state’s report cards found that all states and DC were missing at least one data point required under ESSA. Specifically, only 28 states reported advanced coursework participation, 24 states did not include all the required teacher data, and 18 states did not report graduation rate data.
In response to the COVID-19 related school closures, ESSA accountability plans and reporting were suspended for the 202-21 and 2021-22 academic years. However, in December 2021, the US Department of Education issued regulations indicating that states would have to restart their accountability plans and identify schools for support in the 2022-2023 academic year.
Questions to Ask
What data is tracked and reported by your school district?
What agencies or leaders are responsible for data collection and analysis?
How is the data disaggregated and does it meet federal reporting requirements?
Is it disaggregated by student subgroups?
Is it broken down by grade level, subject level, and school level?
Does the data provided in the state report card and accountability plan meet ESSA’s legal requirements?
Does it include school climate data?
Does it include financial data, such as per-pupil funding and sources of funding?
Does the data provided go beyond the minimum category requirements, or is the state or district meeting only its most basic obligations?
How is the data publicly shared with the community?
How frequently do district staff analyze the data?
What data are being released to demonstrate whether students are college-ready upon graduation?
Are student and school report cards available in languages that reflect the demographics of the district, or is the data available only in English?
Is school accountability data publicly available? Is the data being presented in ways allowing the community to take action?
Is the data presented in a way that is easy for parents/caregivers and community members to read and understand?
In what ways are parents/caregivers and community members being supported in helping them interpret and use the data?
Related Issue Areas
Any decisions surrounding data must take into consideration students’ privacy.
State accountability systems
States must create a system of policies and practices to measure how their schools are performing, and determine what types of data are required.
Why It Matters
School finance is a critical part of educational equity. In an equitable state funding system, public schools would receive enough funding to provide a high-quality education that meets the needs of all students, regardless of the property wealth of communities. However, across the country no state has fully achieved this.
These inequitable funding systems impede efforts to improve educational outcomes, particularly for students with disabilities, students from low-income families, and multilingual learners. Across the country, only 10 state’s funding systems provide at least 10% more in funding to high-poverty districts than low-poverty districts.
Funding inequity also disproportionately impacts students of color. Across the country, districts serving the largest populations of Black, Latino, or Indigenous students receive 13% less in per-pupil state and local funding than those serving the fewest students of color.
These inequities matter. Not only are schools with more resources able to do more for their students, but some students need additional resources and support to achieve their best. Recent research has used lawsuits and policy changes to measure student outcomes before and after large-scale funding changes. Overall, these studies found that more money does improve student outcomes. Specifically:
It also matters how the money is spent. The most effective way to use money depends on local context, student needs, and measures of success.
Three factors determine how much funding districts receive and from which resources:
There are three types of state school funding formula structures:
Questions to Ask
Related Issue Areas
Nearly every state has its flaws in how it funds their public education systems. While challenges vary by state, there are five common areas in education finance inequity.
Formulas do not fully account for differences in student learning needs
Most states use a student-based funding formula, which provides a more direct link between student enrollment, learning needs, and state funding allocation. But other states take a different approach, using resource based or program-based funding formulas, which allocate funding based on the cost of inputs and can constrain how district leaders spend money to meet students’ needs.
There are too many districts, and they’re segregated by wealth
The number of school districts varies significantly among states. For example, Florida and New York both serve a similar number of K-12 students (2.8 million and 2.7 million students, respectively) but take vastly different approaches to drawing school district lines. The entire state of Florida is served by 67 school districts, while New York serves 10 times as many districts (689).
District boundaries are deeply intertwined with systemic school and community segregation by race and class. A larger number of smaller school districts typically means more disparities in property wealth across district lines, which is the primary driver of local tax revenue for schools. This creates a heavier lift for state funding formulas and also generates funding inequities by race because of correlations between racial and economic segregation among districts.
Some schools are funded in an entirely different way
Many states have separate funding mechanisms for different kinds of public schools, like magnet schools and charter schools. As students change schools, their movement could have a significant impact on the per-pupil funding that supports their education. There may be good reasons for some of these distinctions, but policymakers should ensure that schools have equitable funding to support students’ learning needs, regardless of the kind of public school they attend.
States do not provide enough funding to adequately address student learning needs
In states with a student-based funding formula, there are often “weights” that drive increased funding tied to districts based on their students’ additional needs. But how do policymakers know what the right weight should be? There is no single correct answer for how much weight ought to be granted for different types of students. Instead, policymakers and advocates alike should examine the opportunities a formula creates for students with different learning needs.
States use outdated or insufficient methods to account for local tax revenue
State formulas often attempt to account for how much tax money school districts generate locally. This way, state dollars go farther for equity: State funds help even the scales for students in less wealthy districts, and states will not allocate state money inefficiently to wealthier districts that do not need it. Many states do not do enough in practice to account for the vast disparities in the tax base among school districts. They may not account for true local tax capacity or get the full picture on differences in local wealth.
In other cases, states fail to constrain districts that outraise the amount of local revenue that state formulas assume. If states do not cap local contributions to school district funding or otherwise adjust for them, affluent districts can generate significantly more local money than their neighbors and still yield extra dollars from the state.
The State of Funding Equity Data Tool: Look up state education funding by level of poverty and enrollment of students of color
Splitting the Bill: A series of briefs that provide a crash course in the fundamentals of education finance and in key questions to ask in their states and communities.
EdBuild’s FundEd: An overview of state education funding policies for all 50 states
Edunomics Lab: Edunomics Lab provides timely, relevant and actionable analysis of education finance policy and resource allocation strategy and decisions