RELEASE: To Curb Inequities, Focus of School Finance Reform Must Turn to Quality

Washington, D.C. — For nearly half a century, education advocates have taken states to court and pushed for legislation to ensure that school funding is equitable and increases the academic outcomes of all students. A new CAP report released today analyzes key school finance case law and states’ legislative efforts to elucidate why advocates and lawmakers should refocus school finance reform efforts on quality education and access to core programs—not just equal per-pupil spending. “Lawmakers can learn a lot from decades of litigation and state efforts to reform their school finance systems,” says Carmel Martin, distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Equitable funding alone does not produce equitable outcomes, which is why proponents of school finance reform must focus on measures of academic quality and ensure students in high-poverty districts get the additional—not the same—resources they need to succeed in school.” CAP’s analysis of school finance litigation and research finds:

  • Increased spending on education leads to better student outcomes. When states invest in their public schools and create more equitable school finance systems, student achievement levels rise, and the positive effects are even greater among low-income students.
  • Students in high-poverty communities continue to have less access to core academic services that increase student outcomes.
  • Districts, states, and the federal government play crucial roles in equity.
  • While state legal cases have been powerful in closing spending gaps, litigation is inadequate. In many cases, a state’s political climate and fiscal capacity proved to be just as important—if not more important—than court rulings in deciding fiscal reform.
  • Evaluating school finance policies based on equity or adequacy is insufficient. Neither framework requires courts and policymakers to consider the quality of education, including teachers, curriculum, programs, and social supports.

The following key principles should guide school finance reform:

  • School funding systems should ensure equal access to core educational services. Advocates should be focused on the quality of educational opportunities as the driving goal of an equitable education financing system.
  • School funding should provide significant additional resources for low-income students. Weighted student funding should help to attract highly qualified teachers, improve curriculum, and fund additional programs such as early childhood education in high-poverty districts.
  • School finance reforms should be accompanied by outcomes-based accountability schemes that ensure students are prepared for college or career upon graduation.
  • To fully fund education and child welfare programs, states should return investments in public education to pre-Great Recession levels, and the federal should maintain or increase its investment in programs that support students with the greatest needs.

Please click here to read “A Quality Approach to School Funding: Lessons Learned From School Finance Litigation” by Carmel Martin, Ulrich Boser, Meg Benner, and Perpetual Baffour.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at cseeberger@americanprogress.org or 202.741.6292.