Fiscal Inequity, Achievement Gaps Linked in Rural Oregon

Last Updated: March 31, 2006

Compounding Challenges

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CONTACTS: Jerry Johnson (author), (606) 831-2571 Marty Strange, (802) 728-4383

(Washington, DC) As state courts being to grapple with Oregon's school funding system, a new report concludes that inequalities in the distribution of both funding and qualified teachers are primary forces behind achievement gaps in rural Oregon. Using statewide data, the report also finds that these inequities are due to sharp differences in local wealth that state funding does not offset.

The analysis from the Rural School and Community Trust finds that rural Oregon districts facing the most severe socioeconomic challenges receive the least money and produce the lowest levels of student achievement. Conversely, rural districts facing the fewest challenges receive the most money and produce the highest levels of student achievement.

The findings disclose a pattern in which the state's distribution of resources appears to be worsening, not relieving, socioeconomic disparities among rural school districts. "In effect, this maldistribution of resources appears to be working against closing achievement gaps," said Jerry Johnson, the study's author.

The study, Compounding Challenges: Student Achievement and Distribution of Human and Fiscal Resources in Oregon's Rural School Districts, compares resource levels in Oregon's 132 rural school districts (those located in communities of 2,500 or fewer) with student demographic and achievement data. It finds that the 66 districts with the highest student test scores serve communities with higher levels of education among adults, lower levels of student poverty, and less racial diversity than the districts with lower test scores.

The higher achieving districts also operate with significantly more state and local revenue per pupil, allowing them to spend more per pupil on direct classroom expenditures and recruit and retain more highly qualified teachers than the lower achieving districts.

In sum, the amount of money spent per pupil on classroom instruction in Oregon is closely related to achievement outcomes, with higher expenditures correlating closely to higher achievement levels-irrespective of other variables such as poverty and the level of education among adults in the community. The percentage of teachers in a district who are not fully certified also negatively affects student achievement above and beyond the influence of poverty and adult education levels.

The funding inequities are due to sharp differences in the revenue districts receive from local property taxes. State aid is supposed to reduce such disparities, but the study found no significant difference in the levels of state revenue provided to the lower-achieving districts with less local revenue and greater socioeconomic challenges and the higher achieving districts with more local revenue and fewer challenges.

As a result, the overall operating revenue available to lower-achieving districts is significantly less, and that difference shows up as lower levels of spending per pupil for classroom instruction.

The funding constraints also apparently affect the ability of lower achieving districts to attract and retain qualified teachers. These districts have more emergency-certified teachers, another variable that the study found closely associated with lower student achievement.

Additionally, the study results indicate that inequities in the distribution of resources are not primarily the result of the smaller size of school districts in some parts of the state, a conclusion the study says is consistent with other research on Oregon schools.

"Money and teaching quality matters in rural Oregon, and the inequitable distribution of both is contributing to an achievement gap that should be addressed," said Johnson.

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