School Finance:

State and Federal Efforts to Target Poor Students

HEHS-98-36: Published: Jan 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed state and federal efforts to target poor students and the funding gaps between districts with high and low proportions of poor students, focusing on: (1) the extent to which state and federal funding is targeted to districts on the basis of the number of poor students; and (2) the effect of state and federal funding on the amount of funds available to high-poverty compared with low-poverty districts.

GAO noted that: (1) school finance systems in over 90 percent of the states had the effect targeting more state funds to districts with large numbers of poor students in school year 1991-92, regardless of whether the system explicitly intended to do so; (2) the extent of the targeting varied widely, however; (3) New Hampshire targeted poor students the most, providing an additional $6.69 per poor student for every $1 provided to each student; school finance systems in four states (Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and New York) had the effect of targeting no additional funding per poor student; (4) the national average was $.62 in additional state funding; (5) federal funding was more targeted than state funding, providing an average of $4.73 in additional federal funding per poor student nationwide for every $1 provided for each student; (6) because federal funds were more targeted than state funds, the combination of federal and state funding increased the average additional funding per poor student from $.62 to $1.10 nationwide for every $1 provided for each student; (7) reported changes in federal education programs and state school finance systems since school year 1991-92 would probably result in federal funds being more targeted than state funds; (8) state and federal funding reduced but did not eliminate the local funding gap between high- and low-poverty districts in many states; (9) high-poverty districts had less local funding per weighted pupil in 37 of the 47 states GAO analyzed; (10) when GAO added state and federal funds to local funds for GAO's analysis, only 21 states still had such funding gaps, and these gaps were smaller in each state; (11) nevertheless, about 64 percent of the nation's poor students live in these 21 states; (12) nationwide, total funding levels in low-poverty districts were about 15 percent more than those in high-poverty districts; (13) although targeting helped close the funding gap, the percentage of total funding from state and federal sources was more important in reducing the gap; and (14) gaps were smaller in states whose combined state and federal share of total funding was relatively high.

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