Yesterday, the Education Trust released its Funding Gap 2006 report and found that North Carolina, on average, spends $344 less per student in poor districts than wealthy districts. This is lower than the national average of $825, a point missing from today?s N&O article on the report.

Officials at the Department of Public Instruction responded to the report by pointing out that there were large increases in funding for low-wealth schools since the 2003-2004 school year, the year that the Education Trust used to compute the spending gaps. True. But there are more important considerations to keep in mind here:

1. In general, the Education Trust report is essentially a study of very general inputs (state and local funding), not the relationship between inputs and outputs, like academic performance.

2. Federal revenue is not included in the above figure ($344), although the authors do point out that North Carolina?s Title I allocation is relatively small compared to other states. This is a product of the funding formula used by the Department of Education to determine eligibility for Title I funding, and it should probably be changed.

3. This study does not assess adequacy, only equity. Even the authors of the report acknowledge that equity is not a panacea.

4. School district expenditures are not examined, so a state that spends much more on low-income students may very well squander those funds on unnecessary staff, programs, and the like.

5. The methodology is occasionally hampered by differences in the way states organize their school systems.

6. Some differences between poor and wealthy districts may be the result of variations in teacher experience. Many poor districts may have less experienced teachers and administrators, reducing the overall amount spent per student. This does not necessarily mean that poor schools have lower quality teachers, because experience is not a reliable indicator of quality.

7. Since the Education Trust study looks at whole school districts, the distribution of students within a school district is an overlooked, but important, consideration. A school system may very well be targeting individual schools that have a large concentration of poor students, while spending less on wealthier schools within the district. Overall, the expenditure may be less when compared to other school systems within the state, but it may still effectively target the population that needs the funding the most.