Inside nearly all large school districts, the most experienced and highly paid teachers congregate in the more affluent schools. The opposite takes place in the poorer schools, where teachers tend to be more junior and lower paid, and teacher turnover is higher. Financially, this maldistribution means that a larger share of the district’s salary dollars are spent on the more affluent schools, and conversely, the poorer schools with lower salaries draw down less funds per pupil. The problem, of course, is that the resulting dollar allocation patterns work to reinforce achievement gaps, not address them.
While districts have been slow to tackle this problem, it turns out that the federal Title I program could have some leverage. Title I, which delivers funds to high-poverty schools, has a “comparability” provision that requires districts to evenly distribute their state and local funds across schools before Title I funds are brought into the mix. A “loophole” in the requirement, however, permits districts to exempt salary differentials in comparability determinations.
Many have recently argued for closing the comparability loophole. Yet, despite the inequity that it permits, there are some who believe this loophole should stand. Perhaps the most practical concern comes from district leaders who worry that if the loophole is closed, the district will have no choice but to reassign teachers against their will. Doing so, they argue, would prompt teachers to exit the system to the detriment of all students.
This brief addresses this concern by demonstrating that districts would NOT need to mandatorily reassign teachers. It shows that there are other ways to restructure allocations that do not systematically shortchange the neediest schools. Discussed here are four options that districts could pursue to remedy school spending inequities created by uneven salaries:
- Option 1: Apply teacher salary bonuses to some schools to balance salaries
- Option 2: Vary class size across schools to level spending
- Option 3: Concentrate specialist and support staff in schools with lower-salaried teachers
- Option 4: Equalize per-pupil dollar allocations