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Equality In School Finance

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Equality in School Finance

In The Story of the Education Dollar, Odden, Monk, Nakib and Picus describe some basic facts about education spending in the United States to facilitate an understanding of the level and uses of the federal government's policies on education funding. The purpose of the authors' discussion is to argue that public education facilities need to change their focus on the consumption of educational resources to a focus on producing high levels of student achievement. They contend that such a redirection in focus will require large improvements in student achievement, given that only about 10 percent of students currently attain the desired level of achievement across the board in mathematics, science, writing, history, geography and civics. James Traub expands on their discussion to argue for the necessary inclusion of after-care activities for inner-city youth in any successful educational spending program.

Odden et al. note that their analysis of spending patterns across the 50 states is supported by the conclusions reached by the Finance Center of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), although the results of their research did diverge in some significant ways. Odden et al. examined spending and staffing patterns at the district and school levels. They also scrutinized staffing patterns of expenditures by function and program and spending across curriculum content areas in California, Florida and New York. Their major conclusion was that while there had been considerable national investment in public education during the 20th century, as a rule the funds were distributed unfairly and used ineffectively.

The largest portion of increased spending during the 20th century occurred to hire more teachers to reduce class size and to provide more out-of-classroom services, particularly for special education purposes. However, they argue that neither strategy boosted student achievement very much. Also, although education spending has increased teachers' salaries, it has not been used to improve the quality of the teachers. Notably, Odden et al. found that both low-spending and high-spending school districts fund education spending in the same proportions, meaning that high-spending districts tend to have lower class sizes and higher teacher salaries. The authors argue this discrepancy reflects the "fiscal regularities" of education spending that will constantly limit its ability to improve student achievement.

As a result, Odden et al. argue that education spending will need to undergo fundamental restructuring if it will ever successfully improve student achievement. Basically, the long-term task of restructuring education spending must be to "get schools to act more like producers of high levels of student achievement than like consumers of educational resources." However, they note that there are no straightforward ways to ensure the success of the restructuring. However, they maintain that research has demonstrated that all students, despite differences in income and ability, can learn advanced mathematics, science, writing, history and reading comprehension. Traub would take issue with Odden et al.'s argument, insofar as they do not consider the considerable additional disadvantages faced by inner-city youth that may affect their ability to achieve in school.

Odden et al. note that a reform strategy has been developing over the last five years as a policy approach to support the attainment of the ambitious goals of their own analysis. In particular, they note that the reform strategy includes having the top of the education system create goals, set curriculum standards, and develop tough tests that indicate what students know and can accomplish in core academic subjects. However, the responsibility for accomplishing the stated objectives will reside with each school district. Thus, each school district will have to undergo significant changes in its government, management and fiscal policies.

Odden et al. argue that the first step will require the federal government to address the inequitable spending per pupil across the country. The second step will require the reorganization of the public education system from top to bottom. Such reorganization is necessary to determine whether the funding already allocated to the system and any new funding designated to be allocation to the system are slated to be used effectively.

Odden et al. believe one way to ensure the efficacy of public spending is to give more power to local school



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