At-Risk Funding: Increased Money Fails to Increase Achievement

The Kansas at-risk program failed in its directive to close the achievement gap between low-income and not-low-income students. Despite the fact that over $3.6 billion was spent on the at-risk program over the past 23 years, the achievement gap between low-income and not-low-income students is universal, significant, and persistent.

There are four fundamental reasons the program failed to close the achievement gap. Dollars were not targeted and spent exclusively on at0risk students by many school districts. A large share of a-risk dollars were targeted directly to non-at-risk students. Districts were not held accountable for reducing the achievement gap. The program operated mostly in the shadows with little information available to lawmakers and the public.

The failure of the at-risk program to close the achievement gap notwithstanding, an at-risk program should be included in the new public finance law with these fundamental changes: students who are deemed academically at-risk must be clearly identified and at-risk dollars must be targeted directly and exclusively to those students. The system of using the National School Lunch Program as the basis for the at-risk program should be replaced, using poverty rate estimates established by the U.S. Census Bureau as the funding determinant. School districts must also be held accountable for informing the public regarding the use of at-risk dollars and reporting how the program is closing the achievement gap.

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