NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Educational Adequacy Versus Equalized Funding

November 16, 1999

Activists have hauled nearly every state into court challenging school funding formulas which they claim shortchange students in some districts, denying them an education equal to that received by students living in more affluent communities. This has come to be known as the "equity" argument.

  • In 18 states, courts have ordered states to spread school spending among districts.
  • In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution's equal protection clause does not apply to school spending.
  • While that dampened the movement, California later added insult to injury by putting a cap on spending by well-off districts, instead of raising spending in poor areas -- illustrating how litigation can sometimes backfire.
  • In 1989, activists changed tactics -- arguing not on equity grounds, but accusing states of not providing an adequate education to poor and minority children.

Some educators point out that the funds shouldn't go to failing schools in the first place. The resources should be put in the hands of parents, in the form of vouchers redeemable at private schools -- or at public schools once parents are satisfied they have raised their standards.

Source: Tyce Palmaffey, "Is it States' 'Duty' to Educate All?" Investor's Business Daily, November 15, 1999.


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