• by Nilka Avilés, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2010 •

The quality of education in the public school system has been under scrutiny throughout the nation for decades. Despite efforts to ensure equitable educational opportunity, the fact remains that minority students achieve at the lowest academic levels, are more prone to drop out of school, and comprise the lowest percentage of students enrolled in college (George, 2002).

According to Kohler and Lazarín (2007), Hispanics have become the fastest growing population in the United States, significantly surpassing the growth of any other ethnic group. A major concern to be addressed is how unfair funding among campuses in a school district, particularly campuses with low-income, minority, and English language learners, contributes to inequity in services and opportunities that lead to underachievement, low student expectations and poor graduation rates among these student groups.

Missing Funds for High Quality Teachers

A major factor attributed to the disparity in academic performance between ethnic groups is the existence of unfair and inequitable funding. Inequalities can range from resources to classroom accommodations, buildings and the quality of teachers who serve minority populations. Peske and Haycock (2006) and Avilés-Reyes (2007) argue that students are not underachievers because of a lack of skills necessary to attain success, but rather they have been short-changed by the hiring of less qualified teachers in low socioeconomic areas with high minority populations.

Teaching quality impacts student performance, but teachers cannot champion the cause alone. Salaries are important when hiring highly qualified teachers who promote student academic achievement. Some school districts hire less qualified teachers due to incompetent management hiring processes that impact the success rate of students (Darling-Hammond, 1999). Cárdenas (1997) and Cortez (2007) state that it is difficult to recruit teachers in low wealth school districts because of inadequate facilities and unappealing working conditions compared to neighboring school districts that have more wealth.

Therefore, to attract highly qualified teachers, state-of-the-art facilities and resources must be provided to create learning environments that increase achievement. Levin (2009) and Rodríguez (2009) state that equal education funding is a moral responsibility protecting students from facing major social injustices because of financial disparities. Research by Cortez (2009) points out that wealthy school districts in Texas once believed that money had no real impact on student achievement. But, when funds from wealthy school districts were redistributed, school district personnel and community leaders did an about-face and complained that lack of funding impacted the level of education for their students.

The Coalition to Invest in Texas Schools (2004) reported that during 2002-03, 49 percent of school funds came from local funding, 41 percent from state funds, and 10 percent from federal funds. Property tax values in high income communities naturally result in more funds for the school district. Consequently, low property value school districts result in less money per student.

Koch (1999) states that federal mandates now require more rigorous standards be set at the state level. This further exacerbates the issue of unequal funding because of disparities in local revenues and unfunded mandates.

Is Inequity in Education Funding a Violation of Civil Rights?

Barndt and McNally (2001), Cárdenas (1997) and Cortez (2007) posed that disparities among richer and poorer school districts should be an issue of civil rights and racial justice. Further, because states like Wisconsin and Texas have failed to consider the issue in state funding equalization, educational inequalities persist.

In 1973, San Antonio Independent School District vs. Rodríguez established that poverty was not a classification of discrimination and thus is not protected under the 14th Amendment. This decision suggests that poverty can be a result of unequal education as long as it does not involve race (Jones, 2003).

Conversely, in Chicago ’s Cook County , the reverse may be found in the near future. The County Circuit Court has allowed litigation of a discrimination case involving the state’s inequitable funding system through its 2003 Civil Rights Act (Myers, 2009).

Attaining the highest quality in education for every child is a major goal of a just society. Unequal funding in an unequal social justice system automatically places our nation at risk. Cárdenas reveals through his educational studies at the University of Texas at Austin, “Poverty consolidated by poverty produces nothing but poverty” (1997). Furthermore, equal opportunity for education is a right to all on equal terms.

The Closing the Gap 2015 report considers the changes in the population of Texas to ensure that the academic achievement gap among ethnic groups decreases while enrollment, retention and graduation from high school and higher education institutions increases (THECB, 2004).

The state can build its prosperity only by educating its people to be able to compete successfully in our global economy. Failure to do so can only produce a dismal economy and an unfavorable quality of life.

A quality public education is among the most cherished civil rights that a society can offer its citizens. Effective schools depend on good governance to ensure that all students are exposed to a quality education to which they are entitled. This issue must be at the forefront of any legislative and political agenda, along with providing untapped resources to schools needed to educate all students. Moreover, meeting the individual needs of all students regardless of their birthplace, where they live, or the socioeconomic status they inherit is a right and not a privilege (Cortez, 2006; Robledo-Montecel, 2009).

Social justice is fundamental to the economy to ensure our nation is competitive in a world market . This can only be reached through equalized funding and heartfelt valuing of diverse cultures that result in action by those in leadership roles. Only then, will our nation break away from the stigma of being at risk by not utilizing our resources efficiently, effectively and equitably in the educational arena.


Avilés-Reyes, N. Examining the Components of the Early College High School Model and the Impact on the Participants in the Program. Doctoral dissertation (San Antonio, Texas: University of Texas at San Antonio, 2007).

Barndt, M., and J. McNally. “The Return to Separate and Unequal,” Rethinking Schools (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Rethinking Schools, 2001).

Cárdenas, J. Texas School Finance Reform: An IDRA Perspective (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1997).

Coalition to Invest in Texas Schools.Texas School Funding: The Current System, web page (Austin, Texas: Coalition to Invest in Texas Schools, 2004).

Cortez, A. “Fair Funding of Schools: Why and With What Results?IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2009).

Cortez, A. “Equalizing Funding of Texas School Facilities – A Long-standing, Long-neglected Need,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2007).

Cortez, A. “Perspectives on the Texas Legislature’s Latest School Funding Plan,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2006).

Darling-Hammond, L. Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Review of State Policy Evidence (Seattle, Wash.: Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy: University of Washington, 1999).

George, P. “Barriers to Access and Success,” Principal Leadership (2002) 2(9), 23-29.

Jones, E. “Unequal Education: How the Legal System Shortchanges Minority Students,” Connections (Washington, D.C.: Public Education Network, Fall 2003).

Koch, K. “Reforming School Funding: Is Spending Less on Poor Students Unconstitutional?,” CQ Researcher (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1999).

Kohler, A., and M. Lazarín. “Hispanic Education in the United States,” Statistical Brief (Washington, D.C.: National Council of La Raza, 2007) 8, 1-15.

Levin, H. “The Economic Payoff to Investing in Educational Justice,” Educational Researcher (Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association, 2009).

Myers, J. “School Funding Lawsuit Leaps ‘Major Hurdle,’” Catalyst Chicago (Chicago, Ill.: Community Renewal Society, April 16, 2009).

Peske, H., and K. Haycock. Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality: A Report and Recommendations by the Education Trust (Washington, D.C.: Education Trust, 2006).

Robledo Montecel, M. (2009). Without Fair Funding, Most Schools Struggle to Succeed – State Has Backed Away From Fair Funding of Schools, statement (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, December 2, 2009).

Rodríguez, R. “Defining Student Success in the Context of College Readiness: Implications for the Future,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2009).

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan (Austin, Texas: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2004).

Nilka Avilés, Ed.D., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at comment@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]