Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Tale of Two Maps

| By Susan Perkins Weston |

I groaned when I first saw NPR's magnificent new map of district-level spending per pupil across the country, part of a newly launched "School Money" project. Then I looked a little closer.

The shot above zooms in on the Kentucky part of NPR's illustration, showing:
  • Red for spending 33% or more below national average (after a regional cost adjustment)
  • Orange for spending 10% or more below national average
  • Off-white for spending around average, between 10% below and 10% above
  • Light green for 10% or more above average
  • Dark green for 33% or more above average
My groan was because Kentucky doesn't offer much green. Owsley County is the single light green spot on the eastern side of the  map. Anchorage Independent provides the one dark green speck on the Kentucky map, nearly invisible inside Jefferson County. There really is bad news here, because most of our children receive school funding that isn't close to what's available across the nation.

But there is something else to see.

Owsley County has some of the deepest poverty in the nation --and the map shows it as having higher funding per pupil than most of the state. Owsley is surrounded by other Appalachian counties facing huge economic challenges, but those are the counties with funding most like national average.

In some ways, the NPR funding map looks a bit like a reverse-color version of this one from the Kids Count Data Center:

This one shows 2013 child poverty, with the darkest orange showing the deepest concentration of poverty, clustered heavily in the mountain counties. On this map, Owsley County has the highest child poverty rate in the state.

Comparing the two map shows that (roughly and with exceptions) Kentucky spends more on education where families have fewer financial resources to contribute. That, I submit, is a bit of good news inside Kentucky's low-funding bad news. Spending more for students who need more makes sense for a state committed to equipping each and every child to flourish and contribute as adults.

Added note: NPR's article and map are truly wonderful. The article gives a vivid sense of how much harm weak funding can do, and the map lets you click on any county to see its 2013 funding. Do check them out!

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!