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Grant to study school funding's effect on racial achievement gap

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas researcher has received a $70,000 grant to study the effect of school funding on the racial achievement gap.

Emily Rauscher, assistant professor of sociology, earned the award as one of 30 postdoctoral fellows from across the country as part of the 2017 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral and Dissertation Fellowship Programs.

"In his work, Professor Sean Reardon found that racial gaps in educational achievement shrank over the last half of the 20th century," said Rauscher, who examines intergenerational inequality. "However, the recession and rising inequality could alter that trend. Furthermore, the fact that racial gaps in education remain suggests we need to do better."

She said the funding will allow her research to move beyond a long-standing debate about whether funding matters to instead examine whether and in which contexts particular types of funding could help reduce racial and ethnic achievement gaps. For decades, educators and policymakers have grappled with the disparity in academic performance between groups of students.

The analysis will use data for school districts throughout the country to examine whether particular types of funding hold more potential to reduce achievement gaps. Mostly because of availability of data, her investigation of effects of facilities funding on achievement gaps will be limited to California school districts. Rauscher will also limit the most rigorous analyses to districts on state borders, which are more comparable.

After the Great Recession in 2008, states reduced school funding across the nation, but researchers know little about how the cuts might have affected K-12 achievement gaps.

"Reardon’s study found that racial achievement gaps have declined while income gaps have increased," Rauscher said. "Learning more about what contributes to these contrary trends is important for reducing inequality in education."

The KU Institute for Policy & Social Research provided assistance with the award submission and will help to manage the award.

Rauscher also recently received a $25,000 grant from the William T. Grant Foundation to examine the relationship between school funding and academic achievement gaps by socioeconomic status.

"Perhaps school funding," Rauscher said, "can help reduce educational inequality by both race and class."