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Courting Failure: How School Finance Lawsuits Exploit Judges' Good Intentions and Harm our Children

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Publication Date: November 2006

Publisher(s): Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace

Author(s): Alfred A. Lindseth; Alfred A. Lindseth; Paul Clopton; Williamson M. Evers

Topic: Education (Education financing, facilities, and equipment)
Education (Education policy and planning)

Keywords: School quality; Student outcomes; School lawsuits; funding disparities

Type: Book

Coverage: United States


Perhaps the most significant recent change in policy discussions about school finance has been the introduction of the court's making decisions about funding schemes. The focus of the lawsuits has been funding disparities across school districts, which, generally, have led to increased shares of funding. Yet, until recently, virtually no subsequent analysis has investigated whether student outcomes tended to be more equal after spending was equalized.

'Courting Failure' examines the issues involved in school funding adequacy in light of recent court cases and shows that judicial actions regarding school finance--related to either equity or adequacy--have not had a beneficial effect on student performance. The expert contributors explain why low achievement is not inevitable for disadvantaged students and why school resources are not the dominant factor in whether students "beat the odds." They show that cost studies on the price of an adequate education turn out to be more politics than science. And they tell how many districts often do not spend the funds they have in the manner need.

These well-researched essays reveal that simply throwing more resources at the problem has not brought about a solution--because measures of school resources do not provide guidance about either the current quality of schools or the potential for improving them. The expert contributors call for more realistic changes centered around accountability, incentives, and more informed parents and policymakers.