Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

George Thomas

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A problem wicked in its complexity and detriment; the United States has failed most of its students in its inability to address the unashamedly rampant inequality throughout its public education system. The inequality in American public schools appears evident and boundless, but the causes of that inequality, and especially its solutions, are not as obvious. It is easy to explain away the system’s failures as a product of the United States’ ultra-varied environment, but further investigation reveals much of the systems problems are self-caused, resulting from the United States’ uniquely local approach to supporting its schools. A misguided fear of education investment and reform has led the country to rely on localized funding, with minimal redistribution among districts and states. While state and federal governments have taken a hands off approach on funding, anxieties about how those funds are used have left schools accountable to governments out of touch with the schools and communities they control. Rather than give schools and teachers the autonomy they need to counteract unequal circumstances, teachers in high-need schools find themselves limited by the government, the resources available to them, and the communities they find themselves teaching in. A school in a high-needs district or state is typically suffering from not just one problem, but a proliferating collective. Schools that need the most help, are typically getting the least. It is an education system of many components strung together to be to the benefit of some, and the detriment of most.

No government reform has taken a big step forward in addressing the inequality of school quality, but recent increased transparency has granted education researchers a collection of school funding data finally extensive enough to reveal solutions. Relying on that data, and an understanding of American education inequality built over the first two sections, feasible reforms to the system arise as they never had before: An equitable system for funding, found in Wyoming, that presents itself as a viable model to be applied nationwide. The state and federal government are shown to be able to fund education as it requires to be funded, reversing the current trend of underfunding. Teachers remain a big part of the solution: much of the problems that plague United States education can be addressed by preparing teachers better, giving them more autonomy, and paying them more. Finally, through expanding Head Start, the country builds the strong foundation its most vulnerable children need. In solving a complicated problem, what results is a complicated, yet profitable investment in America’s children, exhaustively demonstrated to be affordable and possible. In reforming education inequality, the country ensures a collective greatness for generations to come.

TCF Education Funding Gaps_ Full District-Level Data-With_State_Level_Data.xlsx (3394 kB)
District and State Level Calculations based on Baker's Data