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Economic Segregation in Kansas Public Schools

Image credit: malchev / 123RF Stock Photo

Public schools in the state of Kansas spend less money to educate students of color than they do to educate white students, according to a study released late last month.

In Kansas and almost half of other sates, as the number of minority students in a school increases, the amount the district spends to educate each student goes down. For example, if the number of minority students increases by 10 percent in Kansas schools, then the amount of money spent to educate each student goes down by $188 on average.

“Today’s racial separation in schools may not have the formal mandate of local law,” writes Ary Spatig-Amerikaner (whose report — Unequal Education — was released by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank), “but it just as surely reflects and reinforces lingering status differences between whites and nonwhites by enabling a system of public education funding that shortchanges students of color.”

Six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to segregate public school students by race, many remain economically segregated. About half of the states — including Kansas — spend less to educate students of color than they do to educate white students. Public schools in Missouri and 11 other states actually spend slightly more to educate each minority student, while there is no significant spending difference in the rest of the states.

Traditionally, experts have attributed such disparities in spending to differences in local property taxes approved by district voters. However, according to the Center for American Progress’ new study, spending differences often occur between schools within districts, with more money being spent on students in schools with primarily white enrollment. Such spending disparities are not intentional, according to the study, but occur when more experienced teachers — who are also more highly paid — transfer out of schools with disadvantaged students and into schools with students from wealthier families, where the enrollment tends to be primarily white.

The Center for American Progress based its study on data the schools started reporting to the federal government beginning with the 2009 -10 school year, data that didn’t become available to the public until late last year. This is the first year for which the federal government required districts to report actual teacher salaries at each school rather than average teacher salaries. Because teacher salaries are the largest expense item in district budgets, this new reporting method reveals spending inequities that the study authors refer to as a “comparability gap.”

Schools are supposed to prove disadvantaged students are receiving educations comparable to their wealthier peers, in order to receive Title 1 funds through the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. One way for districts to prove the comparability in education of their haves and have-nots is by showing they spend an equal amount of money to educate each group, but districts are only required to provide average teacher salary information. As the new study points out, however, the real costs of educating these students are not comparable when taking into account the newly available information about differences in teacher salaries at schools with mostly white enrollment and at schools enrolling primarily students of color.

Despite the new finding that public school districts in Kansas spend less to educate students of color, the Unequal Education study reports that overall they spend more per pupil than districts in Missouri and nationwide.

Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise based on statistics from the Center for American Progress “Unequal Education” report


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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.


2 thoughts on “Economic Segregation in Kansas Public Schools

  1. Although I understand and basically agree with the big picture this study is stating, I think it’s unwise to assume younger teachers, and therefore paid less, are not as good as the teachers who earn more and have been teaching longer. I’ve seen some “old timers” who are not burned out, because they never were on fire. I’ve seen some new teachers who totally rock! I’ve seen more experienced teachers who teach from laminated lesson plans, do not engage kids and could care less about anything other than a paycheck.

    Posted by Janet Reynolds | September 8, 2012, 2:34 am
    Reply to this comment
    • I think you have a good point about the importance of determining teachers’ skills on an individual basis. One of the things I love about studies such as this is the insights they can provide. One of the things I dislike is the over-reliance on statistics. This is just one piece of information to be considered along with many others.

      Posted by jwmartinez | September 8, 2012, 3:19 am
      Reply to this comment

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