we also are convinced that it can and should be made to matter more. Indeed, that is the intent of many of the finance reform strategies discussed in Chapter 6. The problem is that the more successful those strategies are, the more likely it is that the effects of funding disparities will be magnified to the detriment of the children in the underfunded schools. Given that many of the children in those schools are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds, the goal of reducing the nexus between family background and student achievement will require even greater attention than in the past to reducing those funding disparities and inadequacies. We reiterate the point we made at the outset: basic fairness compels attention to continuing inequities in American education.
Why has it been so hard to reduce these inequities? The answer lies more in the political tensions resulting from values in conflict than in lack of technical knowledge. Technical problems certainly exist; for example, measures don't yet exist that capture fully the differences among states in state tax wealth and effort, thus complicating efforts to design a fair way for the federal government to assist struggling states. The technical problems, however, are amenable to at least proximate solutions. The political challenges are more vexing. In most states, it has been politically difficult to redistribute resources from wealthy to poor districts, and only with pressure from the courts have states reduced some of the historical inequities. Federal aid constitutes so small a proportion of education funding that it is limited in its ability to overcome disparities within and among states.
While we have no easy solutions to the political challenge, we have no doubt that districts or schools serving disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students will need more funding than other schools if they are to have a chance of raising their students' performance to acceptable levels. To that end, education finance programs will need to be adjusted to reflect the additional demands that educationally at-risk students place on schools. Hence, policy makers will need to include need-based cost adjustments in school finance formulas. In addition, policy makers should be concerned about disparities in educational facilities and technology funding, which are subject to different finance policies than are current operating expenditures and have not received the same scrutiny on fairness grounds as have the latter.
Need-based cost adjustments are important because schools or districts with large concentrations of difficult-to-educate students face many more challenges than other schools. Because their students come to school less ready to learn than students in higher-income suburbs, successful schools will need to provide more individual attention to their students and may need to offer smaller classes. In addition, such schools will have to pay more to hire teachers to induce them to teach in relatively harsh environments and, if they are unable to do that, to