Making money matter more requires more than adequate funding. It also requires additional finance strategies, such as investing in the capacity of the education system, altering incentives to ensure that performance counts, and empowering schools or parents or both to make decisions about the uses of public funds. For money to matter more, it must be used in ways that ensure that schools will have the capacity to teach all students to higher standards as well as the incentive to do so. Policy options involve choices among individual finance strategies and combinations of strategies; policy decisions will depend partially on philosophical outlook but can also be informed by careful attention to evidence from research and practice. Attention to context is important as well, as educational and political conditions diverge widely from place to place and individual policy options will often vary in effectiveness depending on local circumstances.
Educational challenges facing districts and schools serving concentrations of disadvantaged students are particularly intense, and social science research provides few definitive answers about how to improve educational outcomes for these youngsters. While pockets of poverty and disadvantage can be found in all types of communities, the perceived crisis in urban education is especially worrisome. Ongoing reform efforts should be encouraged and evaluated for effectiveness. At the same time, systematic inquiry is needed into a range of more comprehensive and aggressive reforms in urban schools. Piecemeal reform efforts in the past have not generated clear gains in achievement, and generations of at-risk schoolchildren have remained poorly served by public education. Because the benefits of systematic inquiry will extend beyond any one district or state, the federal government should bear primary responsibility for initiating and evaluating bold strategies for improving education for at-risk students.
Improving the American system of education finance is complicated by deeply rooted differences in values about education, the role of parents in guiding the development of their children, and the role of individuals and governments in a democratic society. In addition, there are serious shortcomings in knowledge about exactly how to improve learning for all students. Education policy cannot ignore these facts. Instead, the challenges are to balance differing values in a thoughtful and informed manner and continuously to pursue bold, systematic, and rigorous inquiry to improve understanding about how to make money matter more in achieving educational goals. The committee is convinced that these challenges can be met and that the nation can improve the way it raises and spends money so that finance decisions contribute more directly to making American education fair and effective.