June 14, 2000 1 min read

In Short

Two U.S. Department of Education researchers have delivered a “good news, bad news” report on spending disparities among school districts.

For More Information

“Trends in Disparities in School District Level Expenditures per Pupil,”, from Education Statistics Quarterly.

The good news is that, within a sizable majority of states, spending differences declined from 1980 to 1994, according to William J. Hussar and William Sonnenberg, both of the department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The researchers used seven different measures to gauge school finance variations among districts in 49 states. (Hawaii was not included in their study because it has a single statewide district.)

While Missouri showed increases in financial differences on all seven measures, and 10 other states, mostly in the Midwest, also showed growing disparities, the picture brightened for 38 states over the 14-year span of the study.

In the latter states, the researchers found, a majority of the measures showed that spending inequities had decreased during the period studied—a time when courts required many states to take steps to equalize funding.

The bad news? The variations increased when the researchers looked across state borders to get a national picture.

The researchers were at a loss to explain the reasons for all of the increases and decreases they found in school spending variations. But Mr. Hussar said the national numbers may not be as alarming as they first sound. “It could be that if you control for different costs of education in different geographical areas, they wouldn’t be like that,” he said.

The study also did not account for any shifts in concentrations of high-cost, special-needs students.

A summary of the report, “Trends in Disparities in School District Level Expenditures Per Pupil,” appeared last month in Education Statistics Quarterly, which is published by the national center.

—Debra Viadero

A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2000 edition of Education Week as Research