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Cityscape: Volume 18 Number 2 | Leveling the Playing Field: School District Spending in Diverse Communities


Borrower Beware

Volume 18, Number 2

Mark D. Shroder
Michelle P. Matuga

Leveling the Playing Field: School District Spending in Diverse Communities

Alexander Din

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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) organize and clarify the patterns of human activities on the Earth’s surface and their interaction with each other. GIS data, in the form of maps, can quickly and powerfully convey relationships to policymakers and the public. This department of Cityscape includes maps that convey important housing or community development policy issues or solutions. If you have made such a map and are willing to share it in a future issue of Cityscape, please contact

The United States is the only industrialized nation that funds its public schools from local- and state-level taxes (Payne and Biddle, 1999). School resource disparities across districts reflect economic differences between the wealthy and poor. A school district’s spending per student in each district is based on the economic needs of the students or the school as a whole, which typically is based on median household income. School districts typically determine how much funding each school receives by calculating a cost per student that is the ratio of total school cost to the number of students. The cost-per-student ratio is then divided by the median household income in that district to derive a spending-to-income (SIC) ratio—

SIC ratio = [cost per student/median household income].

Using Montgomery County, Maryland, as an example, these costs can be visualized in a spatial analysis to determine if spending is distributed according to income differences.

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