Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools
Center on Reinventing Public Education, School Finance Redesign Project
Paul T. Hill, Marguerite Roza, and James Harvey
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.
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