Do Districts Fund Schools Fairly?

October 2007

State and federal school accountability programs hold schools to specific standards of academic performance and assume each school is given a fair shake at accomplishing the task of educating its students. But are schools, in fact, treated fairly, at least with respect to funding?

Over the past 35 years, reforms adopted in most states have dramatically improved the equity of funding from one school district to another. But in recent years a new concern has surfaced: What if it’s not the district but rather the specific school a child attends within a district that matters most for accessing educational resources? Mounting evidence suggests that districts commonly distribute different amounts of funding, even when schools serve the same types of students.

This study addresses these questions by taking an in-depth look at funding differences between and within Texas school districts over the course of a decade, from the 1993–94 to 2002–03 school years. The findings demonstrate that, at least in Texas, funding decisions within districts currently have a greater impact on a school’s resources than inequalities in access to revenues across school districts. Although reforms have been successful in reducing inequalities between Texas districts, variation in funding within districts remains high. As a result, examining only data aggregated to the district level, still the standard practice in equity studies, misses much of the inequality in funding across schools.

Related Research: