Secretary Duncan’s Remarks on Press Call Highlighting States Where Education Funding Shortchanges Low-Income, Minority Students

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Secretary Duncan’s Remarks on Press Call Highlighting States Where Education Funding Shortchanges Low-Income, Minority Students

March 13, 2015

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered the remarks below on a press call today with National Urban League President Marc Morial about the importance of ensuring equity in education as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Good afternoon. Thanks so much all of you taking the time. I want to thank my good friend, President Morial, for stepping up here. He’s been a passionate voice for equity, opportunity and excellence in education for a long, long time.

As all of you know, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was signed into law 50 years ago. Yes, it was an educational law but it was not just an education law. It was a civil rights law, designed to ensure equity and opportunity for every child in America.

We have made real progress towards those goals. Today, I am pleased to report that we have the highest high school graduation rates ever of 81 percent, dropout rates are down significantly. African-American dropout rates have been cut by about 45 percent. Latino dropout rates have been cut in half, from 28 to 14 percent.

And because we have the higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, between 2008 and 2012, we have more than 1 million additional students of color not just graduating from high school but going on to college. So while we are all very, very pleased with the progress and since of momentum, we have a long way to go towards ensuring every sing child has an equal opportunity to graduate from high school college and career ready.

With record graduation rates and dropout rates way down, we are still nowhere near where we need to be, which is getting those graduation rates as close to 100 percent as possible and those dropout rates down to zero.

Sadly though, right now in too many places around the country we still have school systems that are fundamentally separate and unequal.

According to our latest data, nationwide, our highest poverty districts spend 15.6 percent less than our lowest poverty districts in state and local funds.

In 23 states, students from low income families are fundamentally being shortchanged when it comes to state and local education funding.

In these states, districts serving the highest percentage of students from low income families spend fewer state and local dollars per pupil than the lowest poverty districts, even though we know that students from low income families have greater educational needs.

This is not just mathematical theory, this is actually real children – real students who we are talking about; in fact, 6.6 million students to be precise. That’s how many students are going to school every day in the highest poverty districts in those 23 states.

Sadly, that same pattern of inequality also holds true for students of color – in 20 states, the districts with the highest percentage of minority students spend fewer state and local dollars than in districts with the lowest percentage of minority students. Inequitable school funding has been a problem in our country for decades, especially because of the long history of using local property taxes to fund schools.

And sadly, over the last decade, this divide—this inequity – has only gotten worse.

Since 2002, the gap between per pupil expenditures in high and low poverty school districts has actually grown wider – from a gap of 10.8 percent to a gap now of 15.6 percent.

Especially at a time when wealth is so polarized, it’s a profound injustice that we are creating educational haves and have-nots.

This isn’t a southern problem or a northern problem; it's not a rich state problem or a poor state problem. Missouri and Illinois don’t look much different here. Neither do New York and Arizona.

The picture very simply in too many states is deeply troubling, deeply disturbing. This is a problem of states failing to provide poor and minority students, and their teachers, hardworking educators, the resources they need and deserve.

As some Republicans in Congress work to reauthorize and fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, they have so far failed to address this pressing problem. In fact, they have shown little to no interest.

Even worse, some Republicans have proposed what equates to a “Robin Hood in reverse” provision – choosing in the drafts that we have seen to exacerbate the problem by allowing even greater cuts to schools that need the help most by permitting states to redirect federal resources away from poor communities to wealthier communities.

That is untenable, and it makes no sense whatsoever.

As the President said last weekend in Selma, this march is not yet over. We owe our children a fair chance, not separate and unequal funding systems.

When we do give our children a chance, our whole country is stronger, our economy is stronger, and the next generation is more secure.

We get there by funding our schools equitably and sufficiently. In too many places, we are just, quite frankly, failing to do that right now.

I’ll stop there and turn it over to President Morial who’s been just an amazing partner and champion to make sure all students have access to high standards and equitable resources.