A new policy brief, authored by researchers at Rutgers University and released by Education Law Center, shows that most U.S. states fund their public schools at a level far below what is necessary for students in high-poverty districts to achieve at even average levels in English and math.

The full report, entitled “The Real Shame of the Nation: The Causes and Consequences of Interstate Inequity in Public School Investments,” is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between school funding, student achievement, and poverty levels across all states and the District of Columbia in the United States.  The report builds on the comparisons in state school funding systems in the “National Report Card, Is School Funding Fair?

The report presents a new “National Education Cost Model” that uses a unique dataset of school spending, student achievement, student and family income levels, and other factors to construct estimates of how much states and school districts would need to spend for their students to reach the national average in English and math.

Among the key findings in the report:

  • In numerous states – including Arizona, Tennessee, Alabama, Michigan, and Georgia – only the lowest-poverty districts have sufficient funding to reach national average student achievement outcomes.
  • Mississippi, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nevada, and Louisiana spend so little that even their lowest-poverty districts can’t reach national average student achievement outcomes.
  • Only a few states – including New Jersey and Massachusetts – have higher levels of funding across all districts and have near-average outcomes, even in the highest-poverty districts.
  • The cost of achieving national average outcomes in very high-poverty districts is three times higher – or $20,000 to $30,000 per pupil – than in low-poverty districts.

The report also debunks the common misconception of a nationwide “failure” in U.S. public education based on international outcome comparisons. When viewed from a state-by-state or district-by-district lens, there is wide variation in spending and student achievement outcomes, with strong performance in a few high-investment states and in low-poverty districts — even those in under-performing states — that rivals that of other high-performing nations.

“The extreme variations in funding and student achievement across the states strike at the heart of the national interest in preparing our students for post-secondary education, the workforce and citizenship,” said Bruce D. Baker, lead author of the report.

“Some states need to increase school funding across the board to ensure equitable outcomes for their students. Others need to target increases to higher-poverty districts. And the federal government should find new avenues to support states with comparatively less ability to boost school funding on their own,” Dr. Baker added.

The report authors recommend a dramatic change in federal policy by pooling federal education dollars to address the wide disparities in state spending and performance, with an emphasis on raising funding levels in states with large spending gaps, low overall student achievement outcomes, and limited fiscal capacity to close those gaps on their own. The authors also recommend that the federal government use its spending power to incentivize low-performing states with higher fiscal capacity to take action to boost funding levels, especially for high poverty districts.

“This groundbreaking report should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and educators around the nation,” said David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center.

“The U.S. education system as a whole is far from failing,” said Mr. Sciarra. “Instead, particular states and regions of the country are letting their students and the entire nation down by failing to provide the resources needed for students to reach their potential.”

Please visit to view the report and policy brief, explore findings with interactive graphics and download complete datasets for further analysis.

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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