in equity concepts and because fiscal neutrality, vertical equity, and equal opportunity concepts of school finance equity do not require equal inputs or resources per pupil. The use of minimum, albeit high levels of outputs, rather than the use of the idea of relative levels (distributions) of outputs, does help distinguish adequacy from equity. Whether people would be content to see vast disparities in educational outcomes, once adequacy was achieved, is a matter of speculation. And certainly one can think of equitable situations (condensed distributions) that are inadequate. Perhaps California or some of the low-spending and low-achieving Southern states fall into this latter category.
Equity is a concept that is steeped in values and requires conceptual clarity to avoid spinning conceptual and empirical wheels and talking past one another. Our review of school finance equity concepts since 1970 suggests that several ideas seem to be reasonably well accepted among researchers, lawyers, and policymakers. First, there are alternative concepts of equity, and no single concept serves the purposes of all users, in part because people have different values and in part because people use the concepts for different purposes (to argue court cases, to design school finance systems, etc.). Second, children and taxpayers each have a legitimate perspective from which to view equity. Third, we should continue to examine inputs even as we move to using concepts of output equity because many users (e.g., lawyers, the public) find input equity meaningful. And, fourth, given the American structure of primary and secondary education, states and school districts are important units of analysis.
Moreover, several recent trends are apparent. First, analysts are paying greater attention to outputs throughout the broader field of educational policy, and this attention can be seen in school finance equity discussions. Second, while the school district remains an important unit of analysis, the school is increasingly used as well, especially in areas such as governance, accountability, and finance, that involve large, urban school districts. Decentralization, site-based decision making, and school-based budgeting all foster a focus on the school rather than exclusive attention on the district. Third, policymakers and lawyers now frequently use concepts of adequacy. Fourth, the courts continue to be used to achieve change that is not possible through the political process and in the state legislatures. And, fifth, more detailed data bases permit greater differentiation of pupil characteristics and funding streams, and this leads to greater use of vertical equity, rather than the traditional reliance on horizontal equity alone.
The fifth point, which involves data availability and conceptual measurement, deserves particular attention. Throughout the past 25 years, data availability has been an important factor in determining how school finance equity concepts and even court case remedies are formulated. For example, in the 1970s,