November 10, 2020
As the country continues to grapple with the economic effects of the pandemic, PSTC sociologist Emily Rauscher is expanding her research on school funding cuts to consider how COVID-19 and the current recession may affect inequality as it relates to education funding.
Rauscher was recently awarded a grant from the Spencer Foundation for her project “Funding Progressivity, COVID-19, and Inequality of School Resources by Race and SES,” through which she hopes to understand the extent to which inequality may increase as a result of budget changes that arise from COVID-19.
This award builds on Rauscher’s recent investigations of the relationship between education funding and inequality, which began with data from Kansas from 2009-2015. This research was published in 2018 in a Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy article, and found that the detrimental effects of the state’s education funding cuts on academic performance were felt most significantly amongst Black and Hispanic students. Her other recent work on school funding includes a 2019 article in Sociology of Education, showing that academic funding is most beneficial for low-socioeconomic-status students in California, and a 2020 article in AERA Open concluding that funding cuts have more negative implications for rural students in Kansas.
With the Spencer Foundation award, alongside inequality, Rauscher plans to investigate how the effects of school budget cuts may differ based on how progressive state school funding policies are. She noted, “Wealthier districts are better able to raise and sustain school funding than poorer districts. As state budgets decline, funding in poorer districts is likely to decline more than in wealthier districts. If funding cuts harm disadvantaged students more, then inequality could increase drastically.” She added, “These effects could paradoxically differ by how progressively states fund education. Districts that rely more on state funding may experience the largest funding cuts—especially in progressive states.”
Rauscher’s interest in examining education funding through the lens of sociology arose when she was living in Kansas during the Great Recession, and watched budget shortfalls massively impact the state’s education funding. “Watching the implications of those funding cuts in my daughter's kindergarten classroom hit home for me,” she reflected. “Advantaged kids will do well despite funding cuts. Students without economic and social advantages are particularly hurt by funding cuts.”
Rauscher later chose Kansas as a case study for her AERA Open paper on how geographical setting can affect the impact of funding cuts. “During the Trump administration, the Department of Education considered a policy change to reduce funds for rural school districts. This made me wonder how funding cuts affected students in rural districts in Kansas,” she explained. “The high proportion of rural districts in Kansas makes it a good case to examine effects by geography. Having grown up in a rural area, I am invested in this question for academic and personal reasons.”