Goal 1: education finance systems should facilitate a substantially higher level of achievement for all students, while using resources in a cost-efficient manner.

Goal 2: education finance systems should facilitate efforts to break the nexus between student background characteristics and student achievement.

Goal 3: education finance systems should generate revenues in a fair and efficient manner.

The first two of these goals speak to different aspects of ensuring that all students achieve high levels of learning. The best way to explain these two aspects is with reference to the current distribution of students along some spectrum of achievement. Goal 1 says that as a nation we are dissatisfied with the existing level of achievement and that we want all students to do better. In other words, we want the entire distribution to shift upward. At the same time, goal 1 acknowledges that raising student achievement is not just (or even necessarily) a matter of increasing the amount of resources devoted to education but also of ensuring that resources are used well and not wasted. Goal 2 says that the nation also is dissatisfied with the differences, or variance, in the distribution of student achievement, especially because the differences are linked to background characteristics like race and wealth that American society does not regard as legitimate explanations for achievement gaps.

Goal 3 embraces the belief that in raising revenues for schools, as well as in spending, school finance systems should operate fairly and efficiently.


Goal 1 marks a crucial change in expectations about education finance policies. In the past, finance focused mainly on how and at which levels of government money to support public schools should be raised. Most finance debates in the 20th century have revolved around the extent to which state and later federal aid should be used to overcome the fiscal disparities that have resulted from the 19th century's dependence on local funding of education.

School finance in the 21st century faces a more important but more daunting challenge: how to harness the financing system to promote greater student achievement. This challenge is more important because it aims to link finance directly to the purposes of education. It is more daunting because in linking finance with education's purposes it becomes intertwined with an unprecedented ambition: never before has the nation set for itself the goal of educating all children to high standards.

Despite the "intense faith in education—almost a secular religion" that Americans have had and their belief that reforming the public schools would improve not just education but society (Tyack and Cuban, 1995:1), it is only in

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