Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools

Eric Osberg

Center on Reinventing Public Education, School Finance Redesign Project
Paul T. Hill, Marguerite Roza, and James Harvey
December 2008

This handy little report represents the culmination of a six-year,
$6 million effort--the School Finance Redesign Project--designed to
address one simple, but crucial, question: "How can states and
localities spend money more effectively to promote high achievement for
all students?" That question spawned 30 studies from more than 40
scholars, the sum of whose work is summarized in this report, and which
identifies a handful of pressing problems and suggests four
recommendations. On the problem front, the offenders are well known. For
example, despite huge increases in funding in recent decades, student
achievement has improved only marginally (if at all). And there are
tremendous inequities on various levels--between states, district,
schools, and even classrooms. For instance, one study found
that the actual per pupil spending of a typical "core" class (e.g. math
or English) was 20 percent less than a "non-core," or elective,
class--due to differences in class size, teacher salaries, and teacher
workloads. In another study, Roza, Davis, and Guinn found that spending
patterns of principals were determined at least in part by level of
autonomy. With greater control, principals "would often make different
choices," such as hiring more teachers but at lower salaries. And of
course multiple studies showed the funding inequities across states and
between low and high poverty schools--gaps that are (at the state level)
unfortunately correlated with achievement. The four recommended
solutions are sensible: fund schools based on student counts; link data
on funding and results; encourage innovation; and hold schools and
districts accountable for student learning. In fact, these are
consistent with the principles of a weighted student funding system
advocated by Fordham in Fund the Child;
they would do much to right the many wrongs caused by today's
antiquated, inequitable, and overly complex funding systems. Of course,
actually implementing such changes is far from simple, but reformers
interested in a quick outline of the problems and of the way forward
should check out this work.