Nine out of every 10 students at Hiawassee Elementary in Orange County live in poverty. And federal data shows that the school district spends about $2,065 on teachers per student. However, the county’s Lake Whitney Elementary, which has a statistically more well-off student-base, spends more than a third more — $2,710 — on staffing per student.
Across Central Florida, districts spend less per pupil to staff many of their highest-poverty schools despite federal rules intended to make sure every poor school gets its fair share, writes Lauren Roth at the Orlando Sentinel.
“Too many children living below the poverty line are getting shortchanged,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
“When children who need more get less, that’s what we’re concerned about.”
The data suggests that this spending difference is because the poorer schools often hire teachers that are less experienced and paid less money.
“The current rules allow districts to prove schools are being treated comparably if they are each given the same number of staffers per student and follow the same pay scale, regardless of their salary or experience level,” writes Roth.
Duncan called that standard a loophole that “undermines Title I.”
Jennifer Gramzinski, principal at Hiawassee Elementary since 2009, said her students struggle with emotional needs that children at wealthier schools do not.
“It’s hard to get them to pay attention to math and English when they have so many challenges at home,” she said.
Her school uses grant money and Title I dollars to provide extra guidance staff and tutors. But in the face of current cuts, she is facing the prospect of losing them.
Nationwide, 46 percent of high-poverty elementary schools spent less per student on staffing than wealthier schools according to the U.S. Department of Education study.
Duncan pointed out that some school districts are distributing money much more equally than the average, with about 1 in 4 school districts would not be in compliance with the new rules.
And it is believed that school-based spending of a few percent would level the playing field.
“It’s not much, but it’s a little something” that could increase the experience level and average pay at a school, said Marjorie Murray, who oversees Title I for the county school district.