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Gap in Suburban, Urban School Spending Widens

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The gap in per-capita spending for schools between central cities and suburbs grew between 1977 and 1981, even though central cities were spending relatively more on education than they had in the past, according to a new report by the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

On a per-capita basis, suburbs continued to outspend central cities for education, according to the 112-page report, "Fiscal Disparities: Central Cities & Suburbs, 1981," although central cities spent more on other services. Education expenditures in central cities rose from $346 per resident in 1977 to $420 in 1981, while suburban expenditures rose from $372 per resident to $471 over the same period.

Per-capita--as distinguished from per-pupil--spending is generally regarded as one important measure of the tax effort a community expends on behalf of its schools.

The report found that in 1981, cities still devoted only 32 percent of their budgets to education, while suburbs devoted 47 percent. This, it noted, reflects cities' generally wider range of social-service programs and other noneducational commitments.

The report was prepared by Seymour Sacks of Syracuse University and George Palumbo of Canisius College under a contractual arrangement with the commission.

Their analyses were based on data on the nation's largest Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas drawn from the U.S. Treasury Department's office of revenue-sharing and from the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

The bipartisan advisory commis-sion was established by the Congress in 1959 to monitor intergovernmental relations and make recommendations for change.

Regional Differences

The gap between cities and suburbs in per-capita expenditures for education widened most in the 11 largest standard metropolitan statistical areas in the East from 1977 to 1981, the report found. In the East in 1977, central cities spent 95 percent as much for education, per capita, as did suburbs; in 1981, the figure fell to 88 percent, even though federal and state aid was 47 percent higher in Eastern central cities than in suburbs in 1981.

The report did not venture an explanation for this growing disparity.

Trend Reversed

The disparity in per-capita expenditures for education had narrowed between 1957 and 1977, when central-city spending on education rose from 80 percent of the level spent by suburbs to 93 percent, according to the report.

This trend was reversed in 1981, however, when central-city expenditures fell back to 91 percent of suburbs' level.

The report stated that "the precise meaning of this re-emerging divergence ... is not clear."

The report noted that the analysis did not take into account changes in enrollment or in enrollment composition over the past four years--for example, the greater number of handicapped children served since the passage in 1975 of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

The report stated that these changes could affect per-pupil expenditures and implied that they may have contributed to the in6creased gap in per-capita spending for education between cities and suburbs.

The report concluded only that the widening disparity "is noteworthy."

Overall Expenditures

Central cities continued to tax more heavily and to spend more overall than suburbs did in 1981, according to the report, primarily because they spent nearly twice as much for noneducational purposes.

Federal and state aid to cities in 1981 was also greater than to suburbs by 50 percent. This was due primarily to a substantially larger portion of direct federal aid going to central cities, most of it for noneducational purposes, the report stated. Total education aid--including federal and state--on the average was about the same in cities as in suburban areas, although many of the cities did receive more education aid per capita than their suburban counterparts.

Overall per-capita taxes in 1981 were 37 percent higher in the central cities than in the suburbs. This difference is smaller than that in previous years, according to the report.

Between 1977 and 1981, the level of real expenditures in both cities and suburbs declined as voters at the state and local levels rejected tax increases.

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