Wide gaps persist in school expenditures

Where you go to school determines how much money is spent on your schooling. The amount varies from state to state, within states from district to district, and within districts from school to school.

New York state is one of the top spenders for education (along with Alaska, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Michigan). But within New York, some districts are wealthier than others.

In 1974 Levittown and 26 other New York ''property poor'' school districts challenged the system of basing school revenue on local property taxes. The plaintiffs claimed their pupils were unfairly penalized because poor districts cannot raise as much money as rich districts. Rochester, New York City, Syracuse , and Buffalo later joined the case.

Last June the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest judicial body, found the funding differences between districts caused ''significant inequalities'' for students in poor areas but maintained the constitution did not require school spending to be equalized throughout the state. The court said wealthy districts have the right to augment state expenditures for education.

Eventually the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which on Jan. 17 refused to review the New York Court of Appeals decision.

Similar financial disparities can exist within a single city school system.

Sam Lofton, treasurer of the St. Louis, Mo., school board, points out that l 980-8l expenditures per pupil for St. Louis elementary schools were $2,575; for magnet elementary schools, $3,262. An $850 per pupil difference existed between magnet ($4,463) and other ($3,207) high schools. St. Louis spent $9,287 per pupil in schools for the physically handicapped and $7,656 in schools for the behaviorally disordered.

And nationally, as the accompanying map shows, disparities persist.

If it were divided equally among all students, the total of $83 billion provided by federal, state, and local sources would amount to $2,168 per pupil.

States which actually spend within $100 of that much per pupil are California , Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.

At the lowest end of the line, hovering between $1,400 and $1,500 per pupil, are Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

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