School districts face different costs to produce the same level of educational opportunity because of differences in student population, geographical costs of living, and district size. However, in many states, the school finance system fails to take these factors into account when distributing funds to school districts. Most prior analyses of state school finance systems focus on the relationship between district funding and the percent of low-income students in that district or the percent of emergent bilinguals, who are typically classified as English language learners (ELLs).
We present the first longitudinal descriptive evidence of the extent to which state school finance systems compound inequities for districts serving high concentrations of both low-income students and emergent bilinguals. We assess the extent to which high-ELL high-poverty districts are underfunded relative to otherwise similar districts in the same state and how these trends have changed leading up to and following the recession-era spending cuts.
We find that prior to the recession, high-ELL districts received greater funding levels than otherwise similar low-ELL districts in the same state. However, recessionary spending cuts disproportionately impacted funding for emergent bilinguals. The remaining resource advantages for high-ELL districts are concentrated in low-poverty districts. These findings are consistent across measures of funding, expenditures and staffing ratios. Finally, our cross-state analyses identify wide differences in the extent to which states allocate resources equitably across districts. We find that larger student weights for ELL and FRL students may increase funding for those students, but there is a relatively weak relationship between the size of funding weights for special populations and the degree of funding equity for those students.