Posted on April 21, 2011

The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding

Jason Richwine, Ph.D., Backgrounder #2548 (Heritage), April 20, 2011

Abstract: Achievement disparities among racial and ethnic groups persist in the American education system. Asian and white students consistently perform better on standardized tests than Hispanic and black students. While many commentators blame the achievement gap on alleged disparities in school funding, this Heritage Foundation paper demonstrates that public education spending per pupil is broadly similar across racial and ethnic groups. To the extent that funding differences exist at all, they tend to slightly favor lower-performing groups, especially blacks. Since unequal funding for minority students is largely a myth, it cannot be a valid explanation for racial and ethnic differences in school achievement, and there is little evidence that increasing public spending will close the gaps.

In 2009, white public school eighth-graders outscored their black classmates by one standard deviation (equivalent to roughly two and a half years of learning) on the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. Racial differences in achievement like this one are pervasive in the U.S. education system, and the gaps have persisted for decades.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test battery given to 15-year-olds in all 34 OECD countries, puts the gaps in stark terms. If white American students were counted as a separate group, their PISA reading score would rank them third in the world. Hispanic and black Americans, however, would score 31st and 33rd, respectively.

Blaming “Unequal Funding.” A common hypothesis is that Hispanic and black students perform worse in school because less money is spent on them. In 1995, Columbia University’s Linda Darling-Hammond claimed, “The resources devoted to the education of poor children and children of color in the U.S. continue to be significantly less than those devoted to other American children . . . and it is these inequalities that create and sustain the ‘bell curve’ of differential achievement.”

Part of the NAACP’s official statement on education policy reads: “Quality public education for African American and Latino students is persistently threatened as a direct result of inequitable school funding.”

Responding in 2001 to criticism that blacks and Hispanics perform poorly on the SAT, College Board President Gaston Caperton declared, “Tests are not the problem. . . . The problem we have is an unfair education system in America–an unequal education system.”

Even conservative author John McWhorter, while downplaying structural and institutional explanations for the racial achievement gap, still asserts that the alleged funding disadvantage for black students “is a real one.”

These commentators are mistaken on two levels. First, increasing school spending has rarely led to better outcomes. Second, and more fundamentally, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education itself, the assumed funding disparities between racial and ethnic groups do not exist.


Data and Methods

This paper uses two datasets published by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The Secondary School Universe Survey for the 2006–2007 school year provides the racial and ethnic breakdown of schools across the nation; the Financial Survey for the 2006–2007 school year contains detailed expenditure and revenue data for public school districts. Merging these two datasets allows expenditures to be weighted by the racial composition of each district, creating per-pupil expenditures for each group.

Specific Procedure. In each district, the number of white students is multiplied by per-pupil spending to generate the total spending on white students, district by district. The district totals are summed to create a national grand total of spending on white students. That grand total is then divided by the total number of white students across the country, producing the national per-pupil figure for white students. The same procedure is repeated for each racial and ethnic group.


Cost-of-Living Adjustment. {snip}

Cost adjustments should be regarded cautiously. Living expenses can still vary within markets, sometimes considerably. The District of Columbia, for example, is a high-expense city overall, but its poorest (and mostly black and Hispanic) sections have a lower cost of living than the white sections. While the raw data are likely to overstate the minority school funding advantage, the adjusted data probably understate it. Nevertheless, the CWI is the best dataset currently available for making cost adjustments.


Table 1 displays three columns of results. The first shows the raw per-pupil spending figures for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. The second column shows per-pupil spending on white students. The third column adjusts this percentage with the CWI to reflect differences in the cost of living. All three data points for each group are then broken down by census region.

Nationwide, raw per-pupil spending is similar across racial and ethnic groups. The small differences that do exist favor non-white students. After breaking down the data by region, the non-white funding advantage becomes more pronounced. In the Northeast, for example, blacks receive over $2,000 more than whites in per-pupil funding per year. The region with the smallest differences is the South, where spending on black and Hispanic students is only slightly higher than on whites.

Adjusted for cost of living, the differences narrow. Asian and Hispanic students receive slightly less money than whites overall, while blacks receive slightly more. Regional differences persist after the adjustment, especially in the Northeast.


The results in the previous section are straightforward–minority students receive about as much public school funding as white students. {snip}



Although it is often blamed for the racial achievement gap, unequal school funding is largely a myth. Per-pupil spending in the U.S. is broadly similar across racial and ethnic groups. If any one group enjoys an advantage in funding, it is black students, especially in the Northeastern states. Group differences in school achievement cannot be the result of an unequal commitment of resources to minority students, and simple increases in public school funding are not likely to close the gaps.

[The mathematics and notes are available with the original paper.]

24 responses to “The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding”

  1. Question Diversity says:

    These figures are averages. If you want to take the anecdotal route, some districts in the rural Missouri Ozarks spend around a third of what the urban heavily black districts in St. Louis and Kansas City spend, but with way better results.

  2. James N.S.W Australia says:

    Welcome to thirty years ago. Arthur Jensen already uncovered this in “Educability and Group Differences” in, what was it? 1974?

    This is what happens when people don’t pay attention.

  3. Rajesh says:

    I’m surprised that Asian schools get more than white schools. The Asian kids back in China and India consistently out perform American kids, even when there are 80 students to a class, dirt floors, and the only classroom tools being pencils, notebooks (not the laptop variety) and textbooks. I bet you if you cut the Asian funding HALF in the U.S. schools, they would still score at the top!

  4. Seneca the Younger says:

    I’m sure this comes a no surprise to anyone here or anyone that has been involved in a school district or politics.

    I wish this would have been published in major newspapers, but the liberal rags do not want people to know the truth.

  5. Former teacher says:

    You could spend 3x the resources on black children and they still would not do nearly as well as white.

    Poor whites out-score blacks on standardized tests.

    Everything Philip Rushton says about IQ and race is correct. IQ tests, ASVAB tests, SAT and general academic testing all produce the SAME results.

    Saying that does not give me any pleasure. It is what it is. I did not hate black students. I did not hate special education students either.

    I REALLY hate it when leftist America hating liberals like Tim Wise blame the black test scores on “racist white teachers”….that is simply not true. It just is what it is and the leftist need to get over it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Most interesting related topic, on over-representation of blacks in Target Corp’s marketing campaign :

  7. NBJ says:

    I’m going to have to copy this report and use it when I’m arguing with a loony liberal on the endless articles of how majority black schools are always under funded causing the achievement gap. Of course, there will just be another excuse waiting… anything to keep from facing the truth.

  8. Jay says:

    I work in urban high schools. I’m in my third school right now. Needless to say, I have never had more than ONE white kid in all that time across three schools and two boroughs. (And he was half guido/half gangsta’ rapper in his outlook. Go figure.)

    All of my students have been black or latino. (Are there any white children left, anywhere?) The amount of money the local district throws at the urban kids is obscene. You would not believe all the goodies and stuff we have in our schools.

    You hear about crumbling inner city schools, but I have yet to see one. All I’ve seen are fresh-faced young liberal white women cheerleading among their black and brown charges in fully equipped schools with modern computer labs, (unused) new libraries, specialists of every kind, social services, free breakfast and lunch and even on-site medical care. I see this stuff everyday.

    Do the little darlings appreciate all that and work hard to get good grades? You know the answer to that. Growing up in my poor small town, we had so little, but we did okay.

  9. Robert Binion says:

    On May 7, the Kentucky Derby will be won by the fastest horse, not the one with the prettiest saddle. Young students need hearing and vision tests and then a primer to master. Reading comes first. A mind IS a terrible thing to waste, but it is equally heinous to fill it full of claptrap. (And you can’t always bet long shots. What kind of odds wil Santiva get?)

  10. q says:

    “New study finds that non-white schools are not short-changed.”

    There are two main reasons blacks fail in school and neither has anything to do with money: 1) They’re the least intelligent race in America, in addition to being less mentally capable generally in other aspects, like having less creativity and less drive and impetus to start their own businesses, etc; 2) They are genetically prone to crime and violence much more than any of the other races, which is demonstrated throughout the world where they have relocated to, and that would include their home countries in Africa.

    While blacks have other shortcomings that are not typical of other races, the aforementioned are the two MAIN reasons for their lack of success.

    Not recognizing these simple truths, which are supported by a wealth of hard proof, is the reason everything attempted to elevate blacks has failed and will continue to fail. The only way blacks will be on an equal basis with every other race is if the stats are distorted to show that they are. (Which has been attempted now for years.)

  11. Anonymous says:

    “I’m surprised that Asian schools get more than white schools. The Asian kids back in China and India consistently out perform American kids, even when there are 80 students to a class, dirt floors, and the only classroom tools being pencils, notebooks (not the laptop variety) and textbooks. I bet you if you cut the Asian funding HALF in the U.S. schools, they would still score at the top!”

    Is that why American whites outscore Asian Americans on the PISA? If you were to cut the funding for whites in half you’d still have similar results. White and Asian IQs are close enough that in the grand scheme of things their differences don’t matter as much as Whites to Hispanic or Asians to Blacks. Really getting tired of the unrequited love of Asians on here.

  12. Gavroche says:

    Rajesh wrote at 6:53 PM on April 21:

    “The Asian kids back in China and India consistently out perform American kids, even when there are 80 students to a class, dirt floors, and the only classroom tools being pencils, notebooks (not the laptop variety) and textbooks”.


    When will this “Rajesh” stop writing this kind of nonsense here to pretend that East Indians and the Chinese are the same people? Is this a joke?

    Newsflash ! India =

    1) a literacy rate of only 61% :

    2) a median IQ of only 82 :

    3) is not even ranked in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA):

    Furthermore, these higher “Chinese” test scores are not even from mainland China, but from Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong as they obviously were under the direct influence of Western Powers in their recent history. Sorry, but every significant progress from East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, is due to their absorption of Western civilization, technology and financial investments. That’s an undeniable fact. Overpopulated countries like mainland China and most of all India have a long way to go, especially in education…You’re not fooling anybody here !

  13. on the lam from the Thought Police says:

    5 — Former teacher wrote at 7:31 PM on April 21:

    Saying that does not give me any pleasure. It is what it is. I did not hate black students. I did not hate special education students either.

    I REALLY hate it when leftist America hating liberals like Tim Wise blame the black test scores on “racist white teachers”….that is simply not true. It just is what it is and the leftist need to get over it.

  14. John Engelman says:

    There are some things money cannot buy. Social reform and social welfare spending cannot solve social problems that are caused by personal inadequacies.

  15. Keith says:

    I agree with Rajesh. Call me a racist stereotyper, but I really do think Indians and Chinese have a gift for academic achievement, especially in math, science and engineering. Maybe I am just a self-hating european-American innumerate for saying this. Perhaps I could get some counseling and a show-up job at Boeing to help my low self-esteem. Or maybe I will just recognize that there are God-given talents and abilities which we just need to accept. Asians have the raw materials (smarts), and the drive to succeed. Good for them.

    This article also provides ammunition against the self-righteous baby-boomers who complain about the low test scores of 13ers and Millenials. If it weren’t for the inclusion of the minorities (excluding Asians, who are only minorities when the Left want them to be) the U.S stacks up pretty well.

  16. sbuffalonative says:

    Here in Buffalo, blacks used to complain that the reason for black failure was that suburban schools spent more per student.

    Since Buffalo public schools have since passed suburban schools in terms of spending per student, while black failure rates have INCREASED, you no longer hear this argument.

  17. Robert Binion says:

    Tersely, Occam discards razor for ax.

  18. Ben says:

    I’m sorry the author was wrong.

    The argument used “We need equal funding” has been long dead.

    The argument is now “Minorities need more funding to fight the ‘inherent and institutionalized’ racism in America [of course Asians oddly are always ignored].”


    “Really getting tired of the unrequited love of Asians on here.”

    Stating facts about different racial groups is what this site is all about. I’m getting tired of some people confusing that with some kind of “love.”

  19. The Bobster says:

    White and Asian IQs are close enough that in the grand scheme of things their differences don’t matter as much as Whites to Hispanic or Asians to Blacks.


    Only Asians from Northeast Asia. Asians from Jugdesh’s Indian subcontinent score at the level of Mestizos.

  20. John Paser says:

    You can blame upbringing, wealth, or religion on why people aren’t intelligent but what it all boils down to is genetics. The innate, God given or otherwise, mental capacities of the individual are unchangeable. The lack of an ability to learn at a higher level cannot be overcome. Even if the entire $14 trillion U.S. gross domestic product were to be allocated towards trying to “educate” one, yes one individual, whose IQ is measured at 90 and try to move that persons IQ up to 100, it would be impossible. Lead cannot be turned into gold and some people cannot be turned into normal, intelligent, human beings.

  21. TTownTony says:

    What is stunning to me is that in our city we have three EXCELLENT private schools. One is Catholic, one is primarily Protestant, and the other is relatively secular college prep. The AVERAGE spent per child at these schools is about $4200. These kids earn excellent educations and probably 90% or more go on to college.

    One of these groups bought a 40-year old middle school for a couple of hundred thousand dollars and then the parents renovated it with volunteer labor. This school houses about 700 students, K-12. By contrast at the same time blacks demanded a new high school claiming “their people deserved it.” The taxpayers spent $40-million on this 600 student school and what resulted was the WORST performing school in the state.

    Take a look at schools in your area and you may be surprised to discover the same thing. Just check local private school tuition and compare it to the amount taxpayers pay per student at local public schools.

  22. 38specialady says:

    I was a teacher in the Department of Juvenile Justice and, you guessed it, most of my students were black. Eighteen-year-olds who couldn’t add, couldn’t read, had no critical thinking skills. Why? They couldn’t be bothered, they didn’t care. One of my students thought George Bush was the first president of the United States. When I corrected him, he stated that he “can’t be bothered with that.” Well, what can they be bothered with? No amount of money can fix this mentality.

  23. Anonymous says:

    In my home state of New Jersey, nearly half of the state education budget goes toward funding approximately 30 poor districts thanks to an edict by the ultra-left wing NJSC. But despite the lavish spending; the poorest districts remain a disaster. Not to be outdone by race-pandering Democrats, NJ Republicans now back charter schools to rescue the under-served minority students.

    Try and broach the elephant in the room; that the reason the schools are failing is because of the clientele rather than a deficient educational model and you’ll be looked at like you’ve shown up in tuxedo to a funeral.

  24. Bon, From the Land of Babble says:

    I read the entire article and was disappointed, but not surprised; the article, while pointing in the right direction, does not go far enough. Notice there is NO mention of inherent, intractable differences in IQ between blacks and Hispanics vs. Whites and Asians as THE cause of the Achievement Gap.


    This is as far as Jason Richwine, Ph.D., dares go without risking his prestigious position at the Heritage Foundation. He well knows that if he deigns to mention racial IQ differences as The Explanation for the Achievement Gap, his funding will dry up, he will be held up to public ridicule and quite likely lose his position.

    I watched with dismay as The Bell Curve’s scientifically unremarkable statements about black IQ were successfully labeled as racist pseudoscience.

    –Charles Murray, Inequality Taboo

    But, until racial IQ differences are discussed publicly, there will be no clear thinking about American social policy. The assumption that there are no innate differences between the races is wrong; the notion that better programs, court decisions, and more money will make racial differences go away is wrong.

    Messrs. Rushton and Jensen write in Wanted: More Race Realism, Less Moralistic Fallacy:

    Despite repeated claims to the contrary, there has been no narrowing of the 15- to 18-point average IQ difference between Blacks and Whites (1.1 standard deviations); the differences are as large today as they were when first measured nearly 100 years ago.

    The entire educational system is built upon a pack of lies — entrenched lies such as all races are equal in every respect, and race is a social construct. To challenge this dogma and speak openly about racial differences is currently taboo, as evidenced by the article above.

    As long as open discussion and general acceptance of racial IQ differences remain forbidden, the usual tired excuses for the achievement gap (poverty, White oppression, institutional racism) and tired remedies (more teacher training, more money fire hosed into black/Hispanic schools, more accusations of White Racism) will remain in effect, with the exact same outcome.