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Making Money Matter: Financing America's Schools
tinued focus on this definition of equity is not likely to promote the goal of raising student achievement across the board.
More promising is the new legal focus on adequacy. Because the move from equity to adequacy shifts attention away from the distribution of funding levels across districts to the adequacy of funding for desired outcomes, the strategy of trying to ensure that school funding is adequate is potentially crucial to the goal of increasing achievement for all students. In the absence of adequate funding, it will be difficult for states, districts, or schools to generate high and ambitious levels of student achievement for all students.
Policy makers, however, face the vexing problem of determining how much money would be required for true adequacy. This difficulty arises in part because there is so little firm knowledge about how school spending or inputs translate into school outputs given the current nature of teaching and learning. We know even less about what would be required to reach more ambitious achievement standards or what would be required if education were delivered in a more efficient manner.
Will a push through the legal system to increase the adequacy of funding help to achieve the goal of higher achievement for all students? Given that the outcome is uncertain, the best we can do is to identify some of the issues that will affect it. One issue is whether the courts are likely to be more amenable to adequacy than to equity complaints. Notably, as discussed in Chapter 4, not every high court has been receptive to an adequacy argument. For example, high courts in Illinois, Rhode Island, and Florida all rejected adequacy-based claims on the grounds that it is the responsibility of the legislature, not the courts, to decide on the quality of education. Thus, the main uncertainty here is the willingness of the courts either to specify what educational adequacy entails or to require that state legislatures specify those desired outcomes. Without a relatively explicit statement of desired educational outcomes, the court will not be able to determine whether a state is providing adequate funding for education.
A second issue is how state legislatures are likely to respond to adequacy judgments from the courts. State politics played a large role in how states responded to court decisions related to financing equity. On the surface, an adequacy approach (with its focus on the level of outcomes) may be more broadly appealing than the redistributive remedies that typically emerge from cases based on equity considerations. Such an approach may be easier to sell to a public that wants more accountability from government (Carr and Fuhrman, 1999). In practice, however, adequacy, too, is likely to call for politically controversial redistributive remedies, in that additional funds are most likely to have to be directed to those districts with the lowest-performing students. Moreover, lack of knowledge about the educational production function—and disagreement about whether it even makes sense to talk about such a function—adds a huge element of ambiguity and uncertainty to the concept of adequate funding, one that could well provide a basis for legislative stalling and inaction.