UPDATE: This article has been revised to include reaction from Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia).
Congress has underfunded America’s public schools—short-changing impoverished students, students of color, and students with disabilities—by hundreds of billions of dollars, according to a major new report. The report, entitled “Confronting the Education Debt,” is being released publicly on Wednesday, but was provided early to The Young Turks.
From 2005 through 2017, the report concludes, federal education funds allocated to needy schools in all fifty states fell a total of $580 billion short of the levels mandated by federal law.
The report, commissioned by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS)—a coalition of groups including the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union—focuses on education funding levels first established in 1965. As part of Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, a landmark education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was passed to address inequality in America’s education funding.
Title I of the ESEA entitled schools in which at least 40% of students are low-income to receive additional federal education funds. For every low-income child at Title I schools, the law authorized Congress to allocate an additional 40% of the state's per-pupil spending base.
Title I schools could provide supplemental support, such as extra reading assistants and parent engagement specialists, to help impoverished students make up for educational shortfalls associated with poverty. A 2014 UNICEF report found that one third of American children live in poverty.
More than fifty years after ESEA, however, the goal of equitable education funding has never been met, according to the report. Congress, the report notes, failed the very first year to allocate money at Title I levels.
The report juxtaposes the education shortfall with rising economic inequality and concludes that the privatization of schools has cost public school districts hundreds of millions in funding. The report notes that, during the period studied, America’s 400 richest people saw their net worth increase by $1.57 trillion.
Communities with higher proportions of people of color suffer disproportionately from economic inequality, and that includes education funding, the report says. It says, “Black and Brown students are more likely” to endure a range of disadvantages tied to their funding shortfalls. Examples the report lists include:
- Crowded classrooms
- Inexperienced teachers
- Higher teacher turnover rates
- Less access to high-level courses
- Less access to resources including technology, nurses, librarians, and other support staff
The report says that if Congress allocated Title I funding fully, America’s most impoverished schools could provide every student with:
- health and mental-health services for every student, including dental and vision services;
- a full-time nurse in every Title I school;
- a full-time librarian for every Title I school; and
- teaching assistants or counselors.