WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many poor public schools do not pay teachers and educators as much as wealthier schools just a few miles away, according to a survey of 13,000 school districts the U.S. Department of Education released on Wednesday.
The department found that more than 40 percent of schools with low-income students spend less per pupil than other public schools in the same district.
"Many public schools serving low-income children aren't getting their fair share of state and local education funding," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan on a conference call with reporters, adding that the survey encompassing the 2008-09 school year "confirmed an unfortunate reality."
Data was collected as part of the 2009 economic stimulus plan, which flooded states with education money and required extensive reporting on how dollars flowed. New Jersey schools were not included in the survey because the state included federal funds in its calculations.
"The net result is this: in far too many places, Title One money is filling budget gaps rather than closing achievement gaps," Duncan said.
The federal government provides extra funds for schools attended by lower-income students under the part of U.S. education law known as "Title One." In order to receive the money, districts must provide an equal funding to all schools.
The survey found that at the elementary level 46 percent of those schools with lower-income students spent less per pupil than the average of other schools in the same district.
The department found that at 42 percent Title One middle schools, spending per pupil was less than at neighboring non-Title One schools. For Title One high schools the proportion was 45 percent.
State and local funding for education is key, as the U.S. government pitches in less than 10 percent of school funding. States contribute nearly half. Local governments such as counties, cities and school districts primarily use property tax revenues to provide the rest.
As states in the midst of budget crises slash spending and property revenues plummet from the housing market downturn, taxpayers are watching how every education dime is spent.
"Educators, parents, policymakers all understand that low- income students need extra support and resources to succeed," Duncan said.
The department also looked at schools that had poverty rates above the average in their districts. Under this method, poorer schools appeared closer in spending equity with wealthier schools.
For the elementary level, which typically includes kindergarten through sixth grade, 42 percent of higher-poverty schools spent less per pupil. A little more than a third of high-poverty middle schools and high schools had lower spending.
The data comes a day after the U.S. Census reported that nearly half of all children in America live in school districts with high levels of poverty.
Duncan said measures to rectify the inequity are included in current education legislation in Congress.
The oft-criticized law known as No Child Left Behind expired more than four years ago, and a renewal has slowly staggered through Congress. For more than a year, Duncan and President Barack Obama have advocated using the reauthorization to ensure equitable funding within districts.
Education department staff cautioned against using the data released on Wednesday to compare spending of districts or states. They said a more comprehensive report would be released in coming months that included federal funding, more recent spending years, and data on New Jersey.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Diane Craft)