The effectiveness of court-ordered funding of schools


As the school spending lobby in Kansas beats the drums of a new school funding lawsuit — see Kansas school spending lawsuit possible and Kansas school funding lawsuit proposed for details — we ought to consider whether these lawsuits have any merit. That is, have they produced positive results in the classroom? Or do these suits serve only to increase spending?

In research just published by the American Enterprise Institute, researchers looked at four states (Kansas was not among them) and found disappointing results in terms of educational outcomes.

What’s needed is more fundamental reform. Things like differential teacher pay and charter schools, for example. These are being promoted by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but the existing public education bureaucracy and spending lobby are firmly opposed to these reforms.

Here’s the introduction to the study:

Since the late 1980s, state court judges in over twenty states, deriving their authority from the education clauses of their respective state constitutions, have struck down school finance systems as not “adequate.” Pointing to evidence of unacceptable student achievement outcomes, especially among poor and disadvantaged students, advocates of court intervention argue that student outcomes can be improved with additional funding; that is, all children can learn, given sufficient resources. Many courts have accepted this premise and have ordered legislatures to provide unprecedented increases in state appropriations for K-12 schools. Unfortunately, the track record of these judicial interventions suggests that increased funding without other more fundamental changes typically does not lead to improved student performance.

Key points in this Outlook:

  • Advocates of court intervention in school finance argue that student achievement can be improved with additional funding.
  • Achievement data from four states show that court-ordered funding does not necessarily raise student test scores.
  • When coupled with more fundamental reforms, funding increases show some promise.

The entire report, which is not long, is available by clicking on The Effectiveness of Court-Ordered Funding of Schools.


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