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This Just In (AGAIN!): Money Makes a Difference

March 19, 2016

Yet another study on school spending comes to what would seem to be an obvious conclusion: if you spend more equitably you get more equitable test results. As reported by Bridget Ansel in the Washington Center for Equitable Growth newsletter, recently completed research by Julien Lafortune and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California, Berkeley, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University “…finds that an increase in relative funding for low-income school districts actually has a profound effect on the achievement of students in those districts.” As Ansel reports, state reforms that provided low-income school districts with enough money to provide their students with a high-quality education, “…a focus on “adequacy” rather than “equity” eradicated the funding gap between low-income and high-income districts without cutting funds for wealthier school districts. The impact of states who placed an emphasis on adequacy instead of equity meant that by 2011, (those) states spent an average of $1,150 more per pupil in low-income districts compared to high-income districts. States that did not enact the (adequacy) reforms, however, maintained an $800 gap in favor of wealthier schools.

And when “adequacy” states were compared to “equity” states the test results were different as well, with “adequacy” states outscoring “equity” states “…by 0.16 standard deviations—roughly twice the impact as investing the same amount in reduced class sizes.

So… if giving districts more money without strings attached results in higher scores, why aren’t we increasing spending on public education? You won’t find the answer in Tennessee where Jason Gonzales of the Tennessean reports that legislators faced with a constitution that mandates adequate funding are trying to amend the constitution to fund “public schools in such manner as the General Assembly may determine.” Alas more and more legislatures are moving to amend constitutions with adequacy requirements for fear that such language will require higher taxes. And we wonder why poverty persists….


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