Education Funding

Gates Grant Will Fund Four-Year Study of School Finance

By David J. Hoff — October 22, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The richest man in the world is trying to help schools spend money more effectively.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the $24 billion philanthropy of the Microsoft Corp. founder and his wife, is funding a four-year, $5.2 million effort to study how schools can spend dollars to raise student achievement.

“With all of these new performance standards,” said Jacob E. Adams Jr., the lead researcher on the project and a research associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, “one of the biggest questions in American education is how do we help schools achieve these results.”

Traditional models of school finance have focused on divvying up money equally among schools and districts, or on raising the amount of money currently spent, Mr. Adams said. But neither model has found ways to invest education dollars in ways that will yield the biggest return, he said.

“If you really want to find out how much money is needed in the system,” he said, “you have to look at how it’s allocated and used.”

The project aims to do just that in North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington state. Policymakers in each of those states are grappling with redesigning their school finance systems and want to tie them in some way to school performance, Mr. Adams said.

In addition, the project will survey the rest of the states to determine how they link school finance decisions to student performance.

New Approach

Over the past 50 years, the school finance debate has focused on equity and adequacy. In the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down racial segregation in K-12 public education, school finance lawsuits sought to ensure that states distributed their resources fairly to all schools.

In the past decade, lawsuits have started to turn on whether states provide enough money for schools. The remedy has often included per-pupil expenditures that are weighted depending on students’ family incomes, disabilities, and other factors that usually predict the cost to educate students.

The Gates Foundation decided to pay for Mr. Adams’ research because it wanted “fresh thinking on the subject,” said David J. Ferrero, the director of evaluation, research, and policy for the philanthropy’s education division.

The new project will investigate policies that help states or districts solve problems using research-based approaches, such as luring high-quality teachers to schools with high numbers of low-achieving students, Mr. Adams said. It also will analyze the latest research on cognitive learning and estimate the costs associated with applying its findings in schools.

In the end, he said, the project will produce “implementation tools” so policymakers “can have some ability to play around with these school finance options and help them solve their problems.”

Political Minefields

While researchers already know a lot of the policies that help raise student achievement, attempts to put those policies into place often run into significant political hurdles.

“We know how to spend money more efficiently,” said James W. Guthrie, a professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, who is not working on the project. “The problems around efficient use of resources are principally political, not technical.”

Even though research suggests that the quality of a teacher is one of the best predictors of student performance, Mr. Guthrie said, union contracts often give the most experienced teachers the ability to transfer to schools of their choice, leaving less experienced and possibly less qualified teachers working with students most in need.

The political complications, he added, are compounded by the various levels of education policymaking, from school-based councils to district school boards to state legislatures. “That’s a pretty daunting gauntlet you have to run,” he said.

The Seattle-based Gates Foundation is aware of the political reality that may pose problems for future finance formulas, Mr. Ferrero said.

“Mapping the political landscape and getting a real grip on what actually is possible is one of the final things to get done” in the four-year project, he said.

The project will include researchers from Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tenn.; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles; and the RAND Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank.

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Education Dept. Sees Small Cut in Funding Package That Averted Government Shutdown
The Education Department will see a reduction even as the funding package provides for small increases to key K-12 programs.
3 min read
President Joe Biden delivers a speech about healthcare at an event in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26, 2024.
President Joe Biden delivers a speech about health care at an event in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26. Biden signed a funding package into law over the weekend that keeps the federal government open through September but includes a slight decrease in the Education Department's budget.
Matt Kelley/AP
Education Funding Biden's Budget Proposes Smaller Bump to Education Spending
The president requested increases to Title I and IDEA, and funding to expand preschool access in his 2025 budget proposal.
7 min read
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on lowering prices for American families during an event at the YMCA Allard Center on March 11, 2024, in Goffstown, N.H.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on lowering prices for American families during an event at the YMCA Allard Center on March 11, 2024, in Goffstown, N.H. Biden's administration released its 2025 budget proposal, which includes a modest spending increase for the Education Department.
Evan Vucci/AP
Education Funding States Are Pulling Back on K-12 Spending. How Hard Will Schools Get Hit?
Some states are trimming education investments as financial forecasts suggest boom times may be over.
6 min read
Collage illustration of California state house and U.S. currency background.
F. Sheehan for Education Week / Getty
Education Funding Using AI to Guide School Funding: 4 Takeaways
One state is using AI to help guide school funding decisions. Will others follow?
5 min read
 Illustration of a robot hand drawing a graph line leading to budget and finalcial spending.