New AEF Study: School Funding Disparity Harms Student Outcomes & Opportunities

A new study commissioned by the Association for Equity in Funding (AEF) finds disparities in school funding among school districts with vastly different student demographics have negative effects on student outcome measures such as scores on school and district report cards.

The study, unveiled today Sept. 14 at a state Capitol press conference, is a follow-up to an earlier study that developed a “Funding Disparity Ranking” of Wisconsin public schools that allows an “apples-to-apples” comparison of school district funding and spending capacity.  The new study sought to answer the question of whether Wisconsin’s school funding system and resulting disparity between districts (as measured by the “Funding Disparity Rank”) has a direct impact on student performance and outcomes.

The study , titled, “Wisconsin School Funding and Student Outcome: Systemic Roadblock to Opportunity” finds schools with the highest levels of student poverty are typically also seeing the greatest negative effect of funding disparity. In addition, school districts with higher funding disparity saw lower test scores on 8th Grade Math tests.

Taking these two findings together, the study’s author, Scott Wittkopf, a researcher with the Madison-based Forward Institute, concludes that the system used to fund the education of Wisconsin public school children actually contributes to inequity of educational opportunity.  As a result, says Wittkopf, the quality of educational opportunity in Wisconsin now largely depends on where a student lives, and the relative affluence of a student’s family and community.

The study looked separately at the impacts of both student poverty (as measured by free and reduced-price lunch eligibility (FRL) rates) and habitual truancy rates, as both are known to have a significant negative effect on student academic outcomes.

The study finds these two factors produce divergent results in different types of schools.

It finds, for example, that while higher student poverty (as measured by higher FRL rates) negatively impacts both school report card scores and 4th grade reading test results, the relative impact of poverty is greater in suburban school districts than in urban or rural districts.

The impact of habitual truancy is almost flipped. According to the study’s findings, habitual truancy has a negative effect on each measure of student outcomes in rural and urban districts; however, suburban districts see little or no negative effect of habitual truancy on student achievement. Rural districts see the greatest negative effect of habitually truancy.

The Association for Equity in Funding (AEF) is a statewide organization of school districts that advocates for reforms to address increasing inequity in Wisconsin school funding.