The exterior of Lincoln High School in San Jose.
Lincoln High School in San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

Imagine two public schools within a 10-mile radius. Picture the classrooms, the technology and the students. Do you envision equality? Unfortunately, in today’s public education system, equality is nonexistent.

Funding disparities perpetuate this inequality in education, and these discrepancies have real consequences. Students in underfunded schools face academic struggles, limited extracurriculars and inadequate facilities. Meanwhile, those in well-funded schools thrive, perpetuating a cycle of advantages and disadvantages.

The impact is profound. In underfunded districts, math and science scores plummet, college eligibility dwindles and teachers face immense challenges. This crisis demands attention.

We must ensure every student has access to the same resources and opportunities. This isn’t a radical idea — it’s a moral imperative. It’s time to rethink our funding formulas and prioritize equity in education.

As we enter into the months of national, state and local budget building, it is important to equip ourselves with information on how education is currently being funded and how funding allocations ensure each student has access and opportunity to economic mobility.

Here’s how funding disparities perpetuate inequality in California and other states:

  • Each public school district is independently run, and its primary funding sources are property taxes collected within the school district.
  • The state determines the budgetary baseline allocation per student per year.
  • If property taxes collected in a school district don’t meet the budgetary baseline, the state makes up the difference. These are called “state-funded” school districts.
  • If property taxes collected in a school district exceed the budgetary baseline, the district gets to keep the excess. These are called “community-funded” school districts.

For example, in Santa Clara County, a state-funded district might receive $10,000 per student per year, while a community-funded district might receive between $13,000 and $21,000 per student per year. This vast disparity leads to inequities in resources, facilities and opportunities.

Consider the implications: when community-funded schools can offer higher pay, smaller class sizes, state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge technology in every classroom and discretionary budgets for field trips, while other experiential learning, state-funded schools — that often report teachers taking second jobs to make ends meet — aren’t even able to play the same game as community-funded schools, much less compete in the same ballpark.

These funding disparities exacerbate disadvantages for students already facing steep odds. Many students in underfunded districts come from lower-income families, are English language learners and struggle with food and housing insecurity. Education inequality traps these students in a cycle of poverty.

The statistics speak for themselves. In state-funded districts, math and science test scores show a near 80% failure rate, and roughly 40% of students leave high school ineligible for college. Teachers in these districts often face overwhelming challenges, from teaching multiple grade levels simultaneously to struggling with inadequate resources for field trips and other enriching experiences.

We must confront the stark reality: our current funding formulas perpetuate systemic inequality. They favor affluent communities while neglecting those most in need. This isn’t just an issue of fairness — it’s a matter of social justice.

Consider this analogy: imagine two neighbors with identical jobs at the same company. One reports to a modern, well-equipped office, while the other works in a dilapidated building with outdated equipment. This discrepancy isn’t just unfair — it’s unacceptable.

Likewise, the disparity in education funding distorts everything. It deprives students of opportunities, undermines teachers’ efforts and perpetuates cycles of poverty and disadvantage. It’s a systemic issue that demands systemic solutions.

The solution is clear: parity. We must raise the per-student budgetary baseline to ensure equal opportunities for every student. This isn’t about taking from one group to give to another — it’s about ensuring all students have access to the resources they need to succeed.

The choices are clear. We must prioritize equity in education and ensure that every student has access to the resources they need to succeed. This requires bold action and a commitment to fairness.

As we enter budget-building months, let’s remember the stakes. The future of our children — and our society — depends on it. It’s time to rethink our funding formulas and prioritize equity in education.

Lisa Andrew is president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation.

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