How to finance our schools remains controversial, and is the subject of continuous rancor in courthouses and statehouses across the nation. There are many movements, replete with Web sites and annual reporting, that advocate, among other things, proposals such as the “65 percent solution” and weighted student funding. None of the approaches that have been tried, however, has led to significantly improved achievement by students or has closed the nagging achievement gaps that continue to plague schools.
To understand the current predicament more fully and our ideas for making education dollars more effective in the future, we need to examine the past half-century of school finance policy. State legislatures, which spend more money on education than any other sector of government, have been tugged in a variety of directions but have invariably responded by providing ever-increasing funding for schools. Even in today’s dire fiscal climate, education appropriations enjoy the highest priority, although the recipients of such funding are loath to acknowledge their favored status. At the same time, the courts have over the past 30 years become an equally important player in the funding of schools. Only a handful of states have escaped court scrutiny over the allocation and amount of school funding.
The result of all this is that spending per pupil has almost quadrupled since 1960 (after allowing for inflation). Achievement, however, has remained largely flat, raising important questions about whether America’s children are...
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