Academic journal article Education

School Finance Reform: An Unresolved Issue across the Nation

Academic journal article Education

School Finance Reform: An Unresolved Issue across the Nation

Article excerpt

General Overview

When it came to finance, early school reforms sought to secure resources necessary to establishing and maintaining schools. As increasing numbers of communities constructed educational programs to meet local needs, state involvements in public schooling also increased. Eventually, state goals and aspirations for schooling exceeded many local priorities and constraints. In some communities, for example, the number of grade levels, length of school days and school years, and types of programs that states required were larger, longer, and more comprehensive than conceived by local citizens. Yet in other communities, local citizens aspired to meet or exceed state standards, but simply could not afford the cost of such ambition. A major justification for initiating state aid to schools programs was to help localities afford education endeavors they could not otherwise finance.

The historical record suggests that there were two major, but contrasting, rationales for governmental aid to schools. One, central government wanted to promote common schooling in communities that were unable or unwilling to establish basic education programs. Two, central government wanted to promote specific types of schooling. The first goal was pursued by federal and state policy makers in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s. For example, the "Northwest Ordinance of 1787" provided land resources for schools, and then state-level budgeting for schooling began. This early resource support was general in nature, that is, intended to aid the provision of general education. The second goal was pursued by federal and state policy makers as well. Resource sup port for agricultural and technical education programs served as early examples that later led to vocational, occupational, career and special education programs.

The duality of governmental aid to schools presents a major problem in today's school finance reform. As educational expenditures increase, along with other public service needs, competition for scarce government resources intensifies. Not only do general and specific educational programs compete for funding with services such as retirement, health care, and corrections, they also compete with each other. Policy makers must decide whether to give education a greater share of government resources and, if so, whether to spend funds on general aid or specific categories of expenditure. When limited resources are available, the duality problem becomes particularly perplexing.

Tension in governmental aid to schools exists between rich and poor. In fact, this tension presents itself as the major problem in school finance reform litigation. Many government aid programs apportion greater amounts to poorer schools, thereby attempting to equalize resources among schools; other government aid programs distribute equal amounts of aid to rich and poor schools, thereby perpetuating unequal resources. The language of equity speaks directly to this tension. That is, how much financial equalization, if any, should take place among rich and poor schools? "Adequacy" has more recently taken the stand with equity. Adequacy can be more or less powerful than equity in addressing tensions between rich and poor; this observation is directly dependent upon how adequacy is defined and measured.

Ohio Case Study

Evidence of school finance reform duality and tension can be found in Ohio as it exists in most states. Dual objectives of funding general education separate from categorically specific programs create stress in the state aid to schools program. Tension between rich and poor is technically expressed in the basic aid program that drives greater amounts of funding to poor schools. Categorical aid programs produce additional tension in that some categories are adjusted for wealth while others are not. A basic aid "foundation" plus categorical aid programs combine to be the state aid to schools package (Sweet-land, 2001) that critics charge is inequitable and inadequate. …

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