Education spending in the United States differs from school to school.
In the southern state of Mississippi, a school in Brookhaven spends $6,417 per student. Just 100 kilometers west, Natchez spends nearly $3,000 more.
Shannon Eubanks is a school principal, or head of school, in Brookhaven, Mississippi. He told VOA “Our kids don’t have a chance.”
Less money means students in Brookhaven don’t have a music or arts teacher, Eubanks said. Students must share computers and they ride old buses that should have been removed from service years ago.
Eubanks worked hard on a proposal last year to increase money for every Mississippi public school. But Mississippi voters defeated it.
“We just have to keep trying,” Eubanks said.
Who is paying for the schools?
For six months, National Public Radio (NPR) worked on a detailed report about what it calls education’s “money problem.”
It reported that even school districts located near each other get very different amounts of money.
The reason is that districts get money from a number of places, NPR explained. All states give money for schools, but some states give more than others.
Some states give more money to poor school districts than rich districts. The idea is that poorer districts need more help than richer districts. But other states give out money equally to rich and poor districts.
The federal government has programs to help poor districts, but the effect is limited. The federal government only pays for about 8 percent of Kindergarten-12th grade public school costs.
The largest share comes from local taxes on property. Communities with lots of wealthy people collect more property taxes and, as a result, have more money to spend on schools. The opposite is the case for poor communities.
Funding for education across the U.S.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported last year on school spending for the largest U.S. school districts.
In the largest school district, New York City, per student spending is $20,331, the Census Bureau said. That is nearly twice as much as in Los Angeles, California.
In Chicago, Illinois, it is $12,284 per student, $8,725 in Miami, Florida, and $8,295 in Houston, Texas.
Education Week also researched funding levels for all 50 U.S. states. The differences are large.
On average, New York, Alaska, and Wyoming spent more than $17,000 per student in 2013, while California, Oklahoma and Nevada spent about half that amount, Education Week reported.
The average for the U.S. as a whole is about $12,000 per student.
Here is how the small state of Wyoming came to be on the high end of school spending:
The state receives taxes from oil and coal production. In the past, the extra money helped communities with the most production.
That changed in the 1990s, when courts ruled all school districts in Wyoming should share in the oil and coal taxes.
It led to increased money for all Wyoming public schools, said Kari Eakins of Wyoming Department of Education. The biggest change was reducing class size in early grades. The state now requires no more than 16 students per teacher in grades kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Recent cuts in education funding
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looks at public spending on services such as education.
It said the big U.S. recession in 2008 led states to lower spending on education. Falling house prices meant property taxes, which provide the majority of school funding, dropped, too.
The recession is over, but funding for schools remains below 2008 levels in most states, the center said.
The center said those cuts mean schools will produce fewer “qualified workers” to fill the growing demand for “well educated” workers.
How much money a school gets matters, said Eubanks, the Mississippi principal. His school serves 840 students in a rural community -- from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Eubanks said, “We have a lot of issues well beyond education problems trying to serve poor students in a poor state.” He added the school is not giving them services “available in districts with more money.”
I'm Bruce Alpert.
Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English with additional information from NPR and Education Week. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
principal – n. the person in charge of a public school
district – n. an area established by a government for official government business