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KU researcher wins grant to study link between school funding, achievement gap

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

LAWRENCE — National groups estimate that around 20 states are still spending less per public school student than they did in 2008 prior to the Great Recession.

A University of Kansas researcher has received a grant to examine the relationship between school funding and academic achievement gaps by socioeconomic status. Educators and policymakers for decades have grappled with the disparity in academic performance between groups of students.

"It's critical now because so many states have cut education funding in wake of the recession," said Emily Rauscher, assistant professor of sociology. "There are several reasons to believe that school funding cuts could impact students differently. Rising inequality is likely to widen academic achievement gaps already, and if funding cuts amplify those gaps policymakers need to be aware of this. Also, as budgets become even tighter, knowing which types of education funding could most narrow achievement gaps will allow policymakers to make more informed decisions about school funding."

The William T. Grant Foundation recently awarded Rauscher a grant for the project. The KU Institute for Policy & Social Research provided assistance with the award submission and will help to manage the award. Her research primarily will focus on school funding and socioeconomic achievement gaps in California.

Rauscher's study will identify types of funding or contexts in which funding might hold the most potential to improve socioeconomic equality of educational achievement. Armed with a more complete understanding of when funding matters, policymakers will be better equipped to fight inequality in our educational system and society, she said. The research seeks to understand and counteract intergenerational inequality.

"Narrowing achievement gaps by socioeconomic status could counteract intergenerational inequality," Rauscher said. "If we can distribute education funding in a way that narrows achievement gaps, this will provide more equal opportunity to achieve in school."

Ideally, the project will help policymakers determine which types of education funding are most strongly related to achievement gaps, she said.

For example, if she finds that state funds, as opposed to local or federal funds, are best able to help reduce gaps in achievement, then states could collect a portion of local funds and distribute them with other state funds to help narrow gaps.

"In other words," Rauscher said, "it may not just be about the amount of funds provided to schools but how those funds are distributed."