The nation's public schools have been under attack for much of the past three decades. A common criticism is that their performance, as measured by students' standardized test scores, has been stagnant or declining. At the same time, schools have failed to close the gap in achievement between the lowest- and highest-performing students. These developments have occurred despite the increase in resources given to public schools and attempts to allocate those resources more equitably.
Real per-pupil expenditures nationwide increased from $1,973 to $6,146 between 1960 and 1996 (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). In addition, since the 1970s, more than 34 states have faced legal challenges to their school funding systems in an effort to achieve greater equity in the distribution of education dollars (Dayton, 2000). Policymakers at the state level across the country have responded to these legal challenges by moving away from the traditional dependence on local property taxes for school funding toward greater dependence on state support.1
Reforms in governance and finance have made raising private support an impor tant activity of many public schools and school districts. A major wave of educa tion reform over the past decade calls for improving the quality of education nationwide through changes in the governance structures of educational systems. This movement, which includes site-based management and charter school re forms, decentralizes public education decisionmaking to more-local levels of con trol. The governance reforms are based on the concept that education can be im proved by allowing those closest to students to make policy decisions based on the characteristics of the local community.2____________________