Only the federal government can eliminate funding disparities among school districts, school-finance experts and education advocates told a House panel last week.
But witnesses at a hearing on school finance held by the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational education said such a program would probably cost too much to win approval.
Kern Alexander, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, called for legislation that would declare education a "fundamental right," and require states to do likewise as a prerequisite for funding.
"By failing to address its responsibility to fund a reasonable share of the nation's educational costs, the federal government implicitly condones and even provides impetus for inequitable funding of public schools at the elementary and secondary levels," Mr. Alexander said.
But Vincent Munley, associate professor of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., said that drafting rules to ensure "equity" among school districts is "a complicated and formidable task."
He noted that incentives would have to be great to spur states to redistribute school funding, and that withholding funding under current federal programs would hurt disadvantaged students the most.
The hearing was the first in a series planned in preparation for the drafting of a comprehensive education bill.
Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said last week that the compromise civil-rights bill President Bush is expected to sign soon would not necessarily prevent employers from demanding educational credentials of potential employees.
Mr. Alexander had cited that concern in opposing an earlier version of the legislation.
The bill would require employers to prove that a hiring or promotion practice that adversely affects minorities or women is "job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."
Mr. Alexander and other Administration officials had argued that earlier versions of the legislation would undermine education-reform efforts and send "the wrong message"to students about the importance of doing well in school. The only major change made to the relevant provision was to leave it to the courts to deem "business necessity."
"Our initial instinct is that employers still may be able to ask prospective employees whether they have learned something," Mr. Alexander said last week. "We never took the position that you could require a high-school diploma for someone who intends to remain a janitor."