Or perhaps courts needed to gain experience from and comfort with the narrower equity theories before embracing a broader theory.
Whether this recent greater boldness by lawyers and judges will have significantly different consequences for children is another matter, however. That determination will require careful observation of the way school reform and school finance reform unfold in the years ahead.
In any event, what does seem clear is that litigation aimed at achieving school finance reform has not yet run its course. We should look for the filing of more "adequacy" cases. We should anticipate that some states with "adequacy" decisions against them will be hauled back into court on the ground that they have not done enough. And, we should expect that some lawyers will continue to bring some traditional "equity" cases, as exemplified by the recent Vermont case.
Moreover, once "adequacy" talk becomes more common, we might expect to see more intra-district school finance cases. In the past, this has not been viewed as a fruitful litigation target because of the absence of an obvious structural objection to the way districts distribute their money to schools. This is in contrast to the ready objection that has been mounted against the local property tax-based system for getting money to districts. Moreover, the schools with the most children from low-income families and the highest proportion of educationally-least-successful children often spend more dollars per pupil than the district average when state and federal categorical aid are counted. But as judicial concerns about need and outcomes come more to the fore, there are sure to be those whose objections may be couched in terms of how poor children in some schools within urban districts fare compared with other children in the district. Indeed, litigation of this sort is ongoing now in Los Angeles.
In conclusion, although there may be less school finance inequity today than there was 30 years ago, a substantial degree remains.29 To the extent that states with successful school finance litigation have less inequality, and this appears broadly to be the case, reformers will have continued reason to take their battles to the courtroom. This incentive is magnified as courts show a broad willingness to respond to the widespread view that the whole public schooling enterprise is inadequate, especially in its failure to educate successfully too many of our urban poor children. Whether school finance reform alone can turn that failure around remains quite unclear. For example, no one has been able to show that the narrowed spending differentials achieved by successful school finance equity cases in the 1970s and 1980s directly led to a narrowing of educational achievement differentials. Yet advocates for judicial intervention continue to believe not only that school finance reform is required by the norm of basic fairness, but also that reform is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for improving the educational attainment of those now served poorly by our public schools.