Raising the Bar

June 1, 2005
Rhetoric on education equity continues to intensify, with states and plaintiffs arguing the issue in courts across the country.

Rhetoric on education equity continues to intensify, with states and plaintiffs arguing the issue in courts across the country. And with the focus to achieve equity revolving around equalizing funding between “poor” and “wealthy” systems, often the decision is to alter the way funding is allocated instead of ensuring appropriate monies are available to bring institutions “up” to adequate levels.

If you throw a dart at a map of the United States, chances are it will land on a state that has had or is currently embroiled in a lawsuit to win increases in education funding. In fact, only five states have had no litigation challenging the constitutionality of school funding.

Yet among those states where education funding is in the courts, the issue of equity and adequacy among schools continues to be elusive — even after court-ordered changes.

For example, a proposal by Texas lawmakers to increase education spending by about $3 billion over two years in response to last year's court decision that the school finance system is unconstitutional failed to advance last month. The doomed proposal also did not completely eliminate the infamous “Robin Hood” measure that redistributes local property-tax revenues from wealthy to poor districts.

And after two years of trying to correct what it viewed as “historic inequities in school budgets,” the New York City Education Department recently abandoned its effort to equalize budgets by giving additional money to certain schools by taking it from others. The reason: it found that schools originally determined to be getting too much money actually had little room for cuts — prompting the department to concede that without substantially more dollars, it could not continue its effort. The state, which has appealed a court order mandating billions of dollars in additional aid for NYC schools, is being blamed for the decision.

As the education funding battle continues to brew in the courts, the troubling trend of attempting to redistribute spending to an equal level needs to be refocused on “bringing up” spending to an adequate and appropriate level — ensuring higher-spending districts can continue to provide their current level of quality and distressed districts have the resources to match their wealthier counterparts.



Number of states where lawsuits attempting to win increases in education funding are “in process.”

Source: Campaign for Fiscal Equity


Number of states that have had no litigation challenging the constitutionality of K-12 school funding.

Source: Campaign for Fiscal Equity


The only state that does not have an education clause in its constitution.


Approximate amount, in billions, the Texas Legislature proposed increasing spending over two years on education in response to a court order. The proposal failed last month.


Amount, in billions, of New York City's proposed total education budget, up from $13.77 billion this fiscal year.

About the Author

Joe Agron | Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher

Joe Agron is the editor-in-chief/associate publisher of American School & University magazine. Joe has overseen AS&U's editorial direction for more than 25 years, and has helped influence and shape national school infrastructure issues. He has been sought out for comments by publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, ABC News and CNN, and assisted with the introduction of the Education Infrastructure Act of 1994.

Joe also authors a number of industry-exclusive reports. His "Facilities Impact on Learning" series of special reports won national acclaim and helped bring the poor condition of the nation's schools to the attention of many in the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Education and the White House.

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