Missouri's Ozarks Schools Suffer Funding Disparity


Last Updated: October 10, 2008
 

This article appeared in the October 2008 Rural Policy Matters

A new analysis by the Rural Education Finance Center, a project of the Rural School and Community Trust, reveals a significant funding disparity for public schools in the Missouri Ozarks, the poorest rural region of the state. It's not surprising.

The Ozarks are the largest mountainous region between Appalachia and the Rockies. Spanning most of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, the Ozarks are home to the extravagant country music entertainment center at Branson, Missouri and popular recreation venues like Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks and Arkansas's Buffalo River. The region also has many vacation and retirement homes in low-tax communities that appeal to those who have earned their incomes and wealth elsewhere. But beneath the spectacular beauty of this mountainous region and the veneer of recreation and leisure, lies a high level of persistent poverty and the low levels of education and high rates of outmigration that typically accompany limited economic opportunity.

Like many distressed rural regions with strong cultural roots, the Ozarks get as much ridicule as respect. In Missouri, it shows up in the way schools are funded. We looked at 89 school districts in Missouri's Ozarks region, excluding the more urban areas of Joplin and Springfield.

Using the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), for school year 2004-2005, we compared key school finance indicators for Ozark districts with those of all other districts in Missouri. Because there are no metro districts (locale codes 1, 2, or 3) among the 89 Ozark districts, we also compared them with all non-urban, non-suburban districts in the state.

Summary of Findings

Here's a summary of what we found:

Demographics: Missouri's Ozark school districts enroll about 12% of the state's students, and about 28% of the students attending rural and small town schools. Ozark schools have relatively few African Americans students – a little over 1%, compared to almost 20% in the state's metro districts (locale codes 1-3). English Language Learners are not a high percentage in any of the groups (the highest rate is 2.1%).

The poverty rate (free and reduced lunch) in the Ozarks is higher at 46.7% than the rest of the state as a whole (37.5%) and higher than rural and small town districts outside the Ozarks (41.8%).

Lower revenue: Revenue per pupil is 26% higher in other Missouri districts than in the Ozark districts and 8% higher in other rural and small town Missouri districts. That translates to a gap in revenue with suburban districts of almost $2,000 per student and more than $600 with other rural/small town districts. The gap is due to differences in revenue from local sources. State aid is essentially level in Missouri and does nothing to offset the differences in local revenue. Despite the higher poverty rate in the Ozarks, federal revenue is also essentially level. In general, federal revenue often provides more aid to districts with higher poverty rates.

Lower expenditures: As a result of these revenue patterns, operating expenditures (essentially operating costs, no capital costs are included) are 24% higher in other districts than in Ozark districts (about $1,500), and 8% higher (about $500) in the other rural/small town districts than in the Ozarks. Much of the spending difference occurs in teacher salaries and benefits. Salaries are 27% higher in all other districts and 8% higher in other rural/small town districts.

Low spending on operations and maintenance is probably a sign of deferred maintenance to physical plant. We would expect facilities to be an issue with this pattern. Transportation cost per pupil is low.

Lower administrative costs: Finally, these schools appear to be administratively efficient. Administrative cost per pupil in the Ozark districts is actually lower than for all other districts in the state, and much lower than for other rural/small town districts.

In Missouri, the rural region with the most challenges faces those challenges with the fewest financial resources.

Selected Variables Comparing Ozark and Other Missouri School Districts

Item

Ozark Districts

All Other MO districts

All Other MO districts except locale code 1-3

Total Enrollment

110,648

806,403

280,966

African American Enrollment Percent

1.1

19.8

5.3

Meal Rate (Poverty) Percent

46.7

37.5

41.8

English Language Learner Percent

1.3

2.1

0.8

Revenue Per Pupil

7,507

9,480

8,140

Local Revenue per pupil

3,542

5,606

3,873

State Revenue per pupil

3,181

3,107

3,425

Federal Revenue per pupil

784

767

843

Total Current Expenditure Per Pupil

6,376

7,916

6,860

Teacher Salary & Benefits Per pupil

5,087

6,463

5,514

Operation & Maintenance Per Pupil

569

791

612

Transportation Cost Per Pupil

322

380

333

Administration Cost Per Pupil

228

238

309