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Making Money Matter: Financing America's Schools
high-achieving and low-achieving individuals so long as variations in achievement are not associated with "morally irrelevant" characteristics. (A morally relevant characteristic, in this view, might be individual student ability or effort, but not an accident of birth.) Adequacy might overcome these limitations in the equal opportunity definition of equity.
A final general observation about adequacy: while the concept is enjoying a newfound prominence, it actually is an idea with old roots in school finance theory and practice. Specifically, adequacy and traditional foundation aid programs have much in common. In recognizing this, we open the possibility that there are historical lessons from which to benefit in the current round of adequacy discussions. In particular, we should be alert to the possibility that adequacy (especially a low standard of quantitative adequacy) could reproduce the disequalizing consequences of traditional foundation plans.
Foundation plans began in the early part of the 20th century and efforts by school finance reformers to overcome problems with flat grants, the early form of state aid to school districts. Cubberley (1919a; 1919b) and Strayer and Haig (1923) elucidated and developed the idea of the foundation program. Foundation grants set a minimum level of spending per pupil below which a state does not permit a district's spending to fall. Each district is required to levy a property tax at a fixed rate; the state supplements the revenues from this levy up to the foundation level.
Foundation plans3 implicitly define the foundation level as "adequate," but seldom were these levels determined by a systematic assessment of what was required to fund an adequate education. "Adequate" was determined through a political bargaining process, as legislators and governors negotiated on how much state revenue was available or could be generated through additional taxation. Sometimes states made gestures to the notion of adequate inputs by tying their foundation plans to their requirements for teacher certification or to maximum allowable class size levels or pupil-teacher ratios.
State foundation plans were frequently criticized by school finance experts (e.g., Odden and Picus, 1992:176–177) because of their disequalizing effect (they permitted districts that could afford to do so to spend above the foundation level) and because they incorporated no formal adjustment mechanisms to account for changes in educational costs (so over time the foundation level tended to fall below what districts needed to address basic needs). When these plans first came under legal challenge, it was their distributional equity, not their adequacy, that was at issue. Recently, however, the adequacy of foundation and other formulas for distributing education aid has also become a central concern.
As of 1994, 40 states used a foundation grant program as the primary mechanism to distribute basic support (Gold et al., 1995).