Within the problem of poor funding for public schools overall lies the challenge of unequal distribution of these funds. The picture below from an NPR article depicts the uneven financing of school districts:
This article explains that education funding comes from three sources. The proportion varies a bit between states, but generally, 10% is financed federally, and the remaining 90% is split evenly between state and local funding. Local funds come largely from property taxes, which leads to the obvious problem of poorer districts having far smaller budgets for their schools than high-income areas. This sourcing of funds explains the vast differences seen between states in spending per student, as well as the skewed distribution of funds between districts within the same state.
Some states try to flatten the uneven distribution among districts by making up a larger percentage of the funding source. This puts less pressure on areas of lower income to provide those funds for schools. North Carolina is one of these states. Our state government contributes two thirds of our schools’ funds. Even so, North Carolina spends an average of $8,867 per student, which is well under the national average (about a quarter less.)
There have been many attempts to level the playing field, but none have been successful. In one case in 1973, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee equal funding for education. That’s right. Nine old guys (the case happened eight years before the first woman was sworn into the Supreme Court) decided that American children would not receive equal education, because the government wasn’t explicitly obliged to do so.
If the federal government became the entire source of school funds all across the nation, there would would be far less of a divide in education quality based on economic status.