20 Places in America Where Public Schools Are in Crisis

Public schools across the United States face significant challenges impacting the quality of education students receive. The crisis in these institutions is often rooted in underfunding, poor infrastructure, high teacher turnover, and socioeconomic struggles that affect both students and their communities. This article explores 20 specific locations where these crises are particularly acute.

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit’s public schools are in rough shape, from busted heaters to old textbooks. They’re chronically underfunded, so basic educational tools aren’t there. The city’s steep poverty rates don’t help, putting academic success even further out of reach for students. As of January 2024, Mayor Mike Duggan’s probe revealed that all 97 DPS buildings had violations, including broken windows, mold, and various safety risks. This paints a grim picture of the challenges facing the district’s schools.

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore’s public schools are in a tough spot, grappling with low graduation rates and frequent absenteeism. They’re often packed too tight and don’t have enough resources, which drags down the quality of education. Adding to the struggle is a significant shortage of teachers driven by harsh working conditions and lousy pay. In fact, a 2023 national survey highlighted that 73% of school districts are short on teachers.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Public schools in Philadelphia are also really struggling. Many school buildings are falling apart, and getting the necessary resources for teachers and students feels like a constant uphill battle. Plus, the district has one of the highest teacher turnover rates nationwide. A recent report from Billy Penn and the Logan Center pointed out that nearly 40% of Philly schools were marked “unsatisfactory,” suffering from things like outdated facilities and poor ventilation.

Fresno, California

In Fresno, students are hitting educational roadblocks due to language gaps and economic struggles. The schools just don’t have what they need to support English Language Learners, who make up a big chunk of the student body. Fresno County isn’t flush with cash either—over 23% of its residents are scraping below the poverty line. This financial strain only makes it more challenging for students, both ELL and otherwise, to succeed in their educational pursuits.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has been wrestling with its public education system. The big pivot to charter schools has led to a real mixed bag in terms of educational quality. Some kids are doing great, while others are getting left behind, thanks to spotty funding and support. In fact, the post-Katrina landscape has pushed over 90% of public school students into charter schools.

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis public schools are in a difficult spot due to high dropout rates and underwhelming academic performance. The situation is made worse by stark racial disparities and economic divides that block many students from accessing decent education. The sad reality is that St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) have a graduation rate of only about 68%, well below the national average, and their test scores, especially in math, also lag behind state averages.

Cleveland, Ohio

With some of the lowest standardized test scores in the nation, Cleveland’s public schools really have it rough. Students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) just aren’t hitting the mark on state assessments in reading and math, scoring well below the state average. On top of that, Cleveland’s grappling with a high poverty rate—over 28%, almost double the national average. This economic hardship doesn’t just hurt; it directly impacts kids’ attendance and their ability to do well in school.

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis schools are really feeling the pinch, thanks to chronic underfunding that leaves them with rundown facilities and scant educational materials. It’s hard enough that many students come from low-income backgrounds, but it gets even tougher when you hear that Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS) gets less cash per student than the state average. This funding shortfall tightens the belt on resources, making it even harder for schools to provide what kids need to learn and grow.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is booming, but its public schools can’t keep up, leading to jam-packed classrooms and stretched-thin resources. Teachers are swamped, and naturally, the quality of education is taking a hit. The Clark County School District (CCSD) covers Las Vegas and is scrambling to manage its surging student numbers. According to a 2023 report from the Nevada Auditor’s Office, some schools in the district are bursting at the seams, operating at more than 120% capacity and way over the recommended class sizes.

Stockton, California

Battling through high crime rates and deep poverty in the neighborhood, Stockton’s public schools are up against it. This creates a tense environment that’s tough on both students and teachers, and you can bet it hits educational outcomes hard. It’s a vicious cycle because students living in these high-stress areas often perform worse on standardized tests, as per the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque’s public schools are in a tight spot, dealing with scarce funding and a serious truancy problem. With limited resources and little support for students from lower-income families, it’s no wonder academic performance takes a hit. New Mexico’s not exactly breaking the bank for education either; they’re lagging in per-pupil spending. According to a 2023 National Center for Education Statistics report, the state’s kicking in nearly $10K less per student than the national average. That’s a big gap to bridge.

Wichita, Kansas

In Wichita, the repercussions of budget cuts are hitting hard, with classrooms bulging and resources dwindling for both students and teachers. The district’s plans to trim staff through attrition are set to make matters worse, potentially pushing student-to-teacher ratios over 25:1 in some schools—higher than the national average. The direct impact on education quality is clear: larger class sizes mean less individualized instruction and support.

Charleston, West Virginia

Charleston’s schools are facing some serious roadblocks—economic stagnation and a troubling surge in opioid addiction rates. These factors weigh heavily on student involvement and academic achievements. Despite a slight uptick in Charleston’s economic activity, wages haven’t kept up with the rising cost of living. According to a 2023 report by the Charleston Regional Alliance for Jobs (CRAJ), the average wage in Charleston still lags behind the national average, even as housing expenses continue to climb.

Birmingham, Alabama

Shadows of segregation and inequality are evident in the stark divide in resource allocation, especially impacting predominantly African American neighborhoods in Birmingham. The segregation persists; according to a 2023 report by EdBuild, Birmingham’s school district ranks among the most segregated urban systems nationwide. Shockingly, Black students find themselves in schools that are over 90% Black, highlighting the ongoing challenges of racial disparities in education.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Another place marked by troubling levels of segregation and stark racial gaps in academic performance is Milwaukee. This divide is worsened by the chronic lack of funding and resources. The strain is real—Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) struggles to meet its students’ needs. In fact, a 2023 study by the Wisconsin Budget Project revealed that MPS gets less funding per student compared to the suburban districts nearby. It’s a tough pill to swallow, highlighting the uphill battle for equitable education in the city.

Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta’s public schools faced hurdles stemming from steep poverty rates and glaring disparities in funding between different districts. This creates a glaring gap in educational standards across the city. Adding fuel to the fire is Georgia’s state funding formulas are worsening these inequalities. According to a 2023 report by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI), high-poverty districts like APS end up with less state funding per student compared to their wealthier suburban counterparts.

Tucson, Arizona

In Tucson, public schools are stretched thin, grappling with oversized classes and scarce resources. Compounding the issue, a significant portion of students hail from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, adding another layer of difficulty for educators. The city’s poverty rate, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, underscores the economic hurdles facing many families in the district. It’s a rough reality that impacts not just students’ education but their overall well-being.

Bridgeport, Connecticut

Alarming dropout rates plagued Bridgeport, ranking among the highest in Connecticut. Also, underfunded schools here often leave students lacking crucial academic support—the funding gap is glaring. A 2023 report by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education (CCJE) sheds light on the state’s funding formula, which puts low-income districts at a disadvantage.

Flint, Michigan

The public health crisis in Flint has had a profound impact on its public schools, specifically its water crisis. Concerns over water quality have rightfully taken center stage, diverting attention from educational priorities as both students and staff face health worries. The crisis has even taken its toll on teacher morale, with a 2018 University of Michigan study revealing widespread stress and overwhelm among Flint educators.

Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson’s public schools are stuck in a rut of underachievement, worsened by Mississippi’s broader economic struggles. The chronic lack of investment in education stifles students’ academic potential. Mississippi’s economic woes are glaring; it ranks among the lowest in GDP per capita nationwide. According to a 2023 report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Mississippi’s GDP per capita lags nearly 20% behind the national average.

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