As documented in Chapter 3, court cases (those focusing on equity or adequacy claims or both) appear to have raised school spending in the low-spending districts without at the same time lowering it in the high-spending districts (Evans et al., 1999). Evidence from a few of those states suggests as well, however, that the additional revenue received by the recipient jurisdictions has been devoted primarily to the same activities as schools undertook before and hence may not have done much to increase student achievement (Goertz and Natriello, 1999). This evidence provides support for the committee's view that changes in funding alone are not likely to be sufficient to increase student achievement.
Regardless of the success of adequacy as a legal strategy, it is the committee's view that adequacy of funding has a central role to play in any education reform strategy designed to increase student achievement. In particular, discussions of educational funding should include explicit considerations of what the public and policy makers want the educational system to accomplish and what kinds of educational opportunities must be provided to meet those objectives. However, the committee also concludes that the provision of adequate funding by itself will do little to foster significant improvements in overall student achievement. Thus, while improving the adequacy of funding may be a necessary part of any education reform effort—and is likely to be especially crucial for districts or schools serving disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students—it is only part of an overall program for increasing student achievement in a cost-efficient way.
To many education reformers, especially those committed to standards-driven systemic reform, a central element of any finance reform program is investing in capacity. Such investments are necessary to ensure that the system can deliver the quality of product required to enable students to achieve to high levels. Thus, this strategy calls for strategic investments that will yield high rates of return in the form of student achievement. These might include investments in school inputs, such as the capacity of teachers, the quantity of teachers (to reduce class size), technology and school buildings, and investment in the capacity of students to learn, such as preschool programs and family support services. Developing the capacity of students to learn can be extremely important in some cases but, because the returns are likely to be greatest for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, we defer the discussion of that type of investment to the next chapter. In addition, we defer to that chapter investment strategies that focus (1) on reducing class size (because there is some evidence that the benefits of that strategy are greatest for low-performing students) and (2) on technology and facilities, because current policies for financing these investments appear to generate even greater inequities across districts than is the case for operational spending. In this chapter, we examine whether new approaches to paying for teachers