47 Districts in 20 States

Newark, NJ, February 21, 2017 – Education Law Center released today the 2017 list of the most financially strapped public school districts in the nation. The 2017 list includes 47 school districts in 20 states, with every region of the country represented. Over 1.5 million children are educated in these districts, attending underfunded schools under severe fiscal distress.

The report – “America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts” – identifies school districts across the country with higher than average student need and lower than average funding when compared to other districts in their regional labor market.

“A district’s funding level relative to other districts in the same labor market is perhaps the most important factor in whether schools have the resources they need, including effective teachers,” said Dr. Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and a co-author of the report.  “School districts must compete for teachers and support staff, the largest share of any district’s budget. Districts are fiscally disadvantaged if they don’t have the funding to offer competitive wages and comparable working conditions relative to nearby districts and other professions.”

Among the report’s key findings are:

  • Sumter, South Carolina, and Shelby County, Tennessee, face extreme fiscal conditions, with nearly 3 times area poverty rates and less than 84 and 83 percent, respectively, of the average state and local revenue per pupil. School funding levels in Tennessee and South Carolina are among the lowest in the nation.
  • Reading and Allentown, Pennsylvania, are also in extreme distress, with nearly 2.5 times area poverty rates and below 80 percent of the average state and local revenue per pupil.
  • Chicago and Philadelphia are again the most fiscally disadvantaged large urban districts in the nation. Illinois and Pennsylvania have a highly regressive school funding systems, marked by wide funding disparities between low and high poverty districts.
  • California has the highest number – 16 – of fiscally disadvantaged districts.
  • Massachusetts has a relatively progressive funding system, but Lowell is severely disadvantaged with a poverty rate 2.6 times higher than surrounding areas and only 83 percent of the average state and local revenue per pupil.
  • Connecticut has four districts on the list, while Michigan and Arizona have three fiscally disadvantaged districts.

“These findings again show that Governors and Legislatures in far too many states stubbornly resist investing in K-12 education so all children have the resources needed to succeed in school,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and a report co-author. “The states with districts on this list chronically underfund their poorest schools, leaving behind thousands of vulnerable children. This is our national hall of shame.”

America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts is a companion report to Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. For the complete Report Card, please visit: www.schoolfundingfairness.org


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24



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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240