Our Path Forward: Helping Schools with Disadvantaged Students

Wisconsin’s stagnant wages and growing poverty appear in our schools in the person of students qualifying for free or reduced-cost lunch. But hunger is not the only difficulty those students face in learning or that schools face in educating them. To help schools with the added costs of high-need students, we propose an added increment of 0.5 of the per-pupil amount for each student eligible for Reduced Lunch and 0.8 of the per-pupil amount for each student eligible for Free Lunch.

What’s the Problem Addressed?
Wisconsin has large achievement gaps between affluent and low-income children. This gap results in diminished prospects for low-income children in future earnings, employment opportunities, as well as health and mental health outcomes. Schools with a high concentration of low-income students also find it more difficult to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and administrators, which are the key to improving the quality of schooling. The adjusted funding formula would enable Districts with disadvantaged populations to attract high-quality teaching and administrative staff and hire additional support. 

How OWR’s Proposal Addresses It
The incremental increase in funding would directly improve school capacity to help high-need students succeed. Research has found that the broader structural forces undermining low-income students’ achievement makes them more expensive to educate. [note] For compendious evidence that children from low-income backgrounds are more expensive to educate successfully see Richard Rothstein (2005), Class and Schools (EPI) and Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane (eds) (2011) Whither Opportunity (Russell Sage Foundation and Spencer Foundation). [/note]  This new funding formula would recognize this reality-

Who Else is Doing This?
Several states already include an increment to supplement the education of disadvantaged students. Delaware includes an aid of .78 of regular funding for districts with 30% poverty or greater. Minnesota, Utah, Ohio, New Jersey, South Dakota, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Indiana, and North Carolina all have increments of .1 or more. Countries, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have much more progressive national funding formulas that recognize the additional challenge that educating children who are socio-economically disadvantaged create for schools.[note] For the US see Baker, Bruce, Danielle Farrie, Theresa Luhm, and David G. Sciarra (2016) Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card 5th Edition (Education Law Center and Rutgers Graduate School of Education) For the UK see  [/note]

Why Not Wisconsin?
The State of Wisconsin should adjust their education funding formula to address the costs bared by low-income communities in the state. As an incremental step in this direction the legislature should immediately create this additional aid as a supplement before the more onerous project of rewriting the formula can be realized. The proposal should be limited to prioritizing new State appropriations to avoid harming the current budgets of the State’s school districts. Adjusting the formula to establish additional funds for districts serving disadvantaged opportunities will ensure all Wisconsin students have a fair chance at a bright future.