Because of the primacy of equity as a goal in school finance system design, the formulas disproportionately benefit less wealthy districts and those with high concentrations of needier students. … because of the universal impact on communities, school finance legislation requires broad political buy-in.
I think it is worth contrasting the political realities of constructing school finance law with the need and justification for state funding of education in the first place.
The state is the in the business of funding schools for redistributive purposes. If that wasn’t required, there’s little reason to not trade an inefficient pass through of sales and income tax dollars through to communities that could have lower sales and income taxes (or state sales and income taxes) replaced with local sales, income, property taxes , and fees. We come together as states to solve problems that extend beyond parochial boundaries, and our political unions exist to tackle problems we’re not better off tackling alone.
There are limits to redistributive policy. Support for the needs of other communities might wane, leading to challenging and reducing the rights of children with new law or legal battles, serious political consequences for supporters of redistirbution, and decreased in economic activity (in education, property value). These are real pressures that need to be combatted both by convincing voters and through policy success 1. There are also considerations around the ethics of “bailing out” communities that made costly mistakes like constructing too many buildings or offering far too generous rights to staff in contracts that they cannot afford to maintain. We struggle as policy experts to not create the opportunity for moral hazards as we push to support children who need our help today.
Policy experts and legal experts cannot excuse the needs of children today, nor can they fail to face the limits of support for redistribution or incentivizing bad adult behavior.
I don’t doubt that support for redistributive policy goes south when it appears that our efforts to combat poverty and provide equal opportunities appear to fail, over and over again, and in many cases may actually make things worse. ↩