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Baker Welmer Sch Fin and Courts DoReformsMatter_Formatted 4-2010

Baker Welmer Sch Fin and Courts DoReformsMatter_Formatted 4-2010

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Published by Education Justice

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: Education Justice on May 18, 2010
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10/26/2011

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 Title: School Finance and Courts:Does Reform Matter, and How Can We Tell?
Bruce D. Baker, Rutgers UniversityKevin Welner, University of Colorado
 AbstractSchool finance litigation has often prompted funding reforms, but whathappens as a result is the subject of considerable dispute. This articleexplores design problems encountered in studies examining the nature andeffects of those reforms. After describing the development and current statusof school finance litigation, the authors explore methodological complexitiesassociated with estimating the effects of state school finance reforms. Then,following a review of the research literature that provides the most direct andempirically rigorous evaluations of the achievement effects of these reforms,the authors critique a growing body of weaker but nonetheless influentialliterature focused on attacking school finance reform and more generally ondiscrediting judicial involvement in public schooling and finance litigation. Inthe article’s final section, the authors review school finance reform in the fourstates analyzed in an influential recent book by Hanushek and Lindseth,taking a second look at what the book’s authors concluded were disappointingoutcomes.
 
School Finance and CourtsPage 1
1
Introduction
High-quality empirical research can guide policy. But, due to thedisconnect between the research base and policymaking, that potential isoften squandered. The mere existence of careful, rigorous research makeslittle impact if policymakers remain oblivious or if lesser-quality work is moreeffectively communicated and advocated. This article offers an important casestudy of this phenomenon, focused on popular understandings of the effects of school finance reforms that are prompted by litigation.Kansas City, Missouri and the state of New Jersey have long been themost frequently cited illustrations for two key talking points:
courts shouldstay out of education reform
, and
money is not the solution to educationalshortcomings
.
1
Such arguments were built largely on two reports from theCato Institute, a think tank favoring limited government and reducedspending on public education. In a prominent new book called “Schoolhouses,Courthouses, and Statehouses,” Eric Hanushek and Al Lindseth reiterate theNew Jersey argument and add three new jurisdictions to the cast of purported failures: the states of Wyoming, Kentucky and Massachusetts.
2
 Coinciding with its publication, this book was cited approvingly in a majorityopinion of the U.S. Supreme Court (
Horne v. Flores
, 2009), and it has beendistributed widely by sympathetic organizations and individuals. In short,this new book is an example of research that is effectively communicated andadvocated and is therefore influencing discourse and policy. As we explain inthis article, however, the book uses analyses that are as problematic as thoseof Cato. More generally, this article explores the design weaknesses of finance reform impact studies. We first explain the development and currentstatus of school finance litigation in the United States. We then describe thedaunting methodological complexities associated with estimating the effectsof state school finance reforms. Next, we review the research literature thatprovides the most direct and empirically rigorous evaluations of the effects of state school finance reforms on student outcomes, and we then note thegrowing body of advocacy literature that uses relatively weak analyses toattack school finance reform in general and, more specifically, aims todiscredit judicial involvement in public schooling and finance litigation.While this article examines the full body of research, we give particularattention to the new book by Hanushek and Lindseth; we review thecomplexities of school finance reform in those states that are cast as failuresby Hanushek and Lindseth, and we take a second look at outcomes in thosestates.
1
See, for example,
The Economist
(1993).
 
2
As explained later in this article, the book acknowledges successes in Massachusettsbut attributes that success to reform efforts other than the court-ordered financereform.
 
School Finance and CourtsPage 2
2
To ground our discussion of all this research – strong and weak,influential and overlooked – we examine the challenges of identifying andusing outcome measures that are appropriate to each unique state reform.Overall, existing research tells us a great deal about the long-term successesof litigation in reshaping the landscape of school finance. But this knowledgeis not reflected in many key policy discussions.The question under review in this article is not the broad “Does MoneyMatter?” question that was hotly debated in the 1990s, nor is the questionsimply whether judicial rulings overturning state school funding systems are“good.” Rather, the question is whether judicially prompted, significant andsustained state school finance reforms that alter the level or distribution of 
resources
available across a state’s public school children subsequently alterthe relative level or distribution of measurable student
outcomes
. That is,does increasing (and sustaining) the relative level of school funding increasethe relative level of student outcomes? And does increasing the equity bywhich resources are allocated (and sustaining that equity) across childrenwithin states increase the equity of student outcomes?In addition, this article explores the public debate about the meritsand effects of court-prompted finance reform, presenting a case study thatbriefly explores policy discourse to illustrate the powerful effect that well-marketed but lower-quality research can apparently have on policymaking.
The Current Context
 
Many scholars describe school finance litigation as occurring in threemajor waves – an imprecise but useful shorthand. The first wave, in the late1960s and early 1970s, entailed challenges to school funding equity in federalcourt and was based on the Equal Protection
 
Clause of the 14
th
Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution. It ended abruptly with the Supreme Court’s rulingin
San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez
in 1973. The Courtdecided that education is not a fundamental right under the U.S.Constitution and that wealth is not a ‘suspect classification,’ and it thereforeallowed state systems whereby school funding varied across local schooldistricts as a function of local control over property taxation.The second wave, which emerged concurrently with the first, focusedon state constitutions rather than the federal constitution. Plaintiff groupsargued that disparities in funding across school districts – largely resultingfrom differences in property tax revenues – ran afoul of state equal protectionand education clauses. This approach had limited success, with courts in sixstates overturning their school finance formulas while 13 other stateformulas were upheld (Baker, Green and Richards, 2008, p. 86). Thebeginning of the third wave, which was also based on state constitutionalprovisions, is usually marked by the 1989 Kentucky Supreme Court’sdecision in
Rose v. Council for Better Education
. That case shifted the focus

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