School Funding Reform, Hard Work and Fraught with Potential


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.

  1. 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. 

This entry was tagged as school finance education funding

Jun 13, 2014

When We Legislate and Ajudicate Our World View

The Vergara v. California case has everyone in education talking. Key teacher tenure provisions in California are on the ropes, presumably because of the disparate impact on teacher, annd therefore education, quality for students who are less fortunate.

I have fairly loosely held views about the practice of tenure itself ...

Feb 06, 2014


My Democracy Prep colleague Lindsay Malanga and I often say we should start an organization called the Coalition of Pretty Good Schools. We’d start with the following principles.

  1. Every child must have a safe, warm, disruption-free classroom as a non-negotiable, fundamental right.
  2. All children should be taught to read ...

Dec 10, 2013

Did public schools build economies, or did economies build public schools?

We find that public schools offered practically zero return education on the margin, yet they did enjoy significant political and financial support from local political elites, if they taught in the “right” language of instruction.

One thing that both progressives and libertarians agree upon are that social goals of education ...

Dec 03, 2013

A Different Angle on PISA

A quick look at the “student engagement” measures in PISA which may have some interesting interpretations.