Should judges order more school spending in the name of educational equity? In Horne vs. Flores, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower-court decision ordering Arizona to spend more on educating English Language Learners. By a 5-4 vote, the court told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to consider “whether Arizona has complied with civil-rights law by improving both English-learner programs and K-12 education overall,” reports the Arizona Republic. Spending more doesn’t necessarily mean educating more effectively, the majority said.
The decision stopped short of dismissing the case but could hand back to Arizona lawmakers the power to determine how much is spent on English instruction and how such students are taught.
The majority decision quoted research by Hoover fellow Eric Hanushek and school finance lawyer Alfred Lindseth, authors of the just-published Schoolhouses, Courthouses and Statehouses, which argues that court-ordered funding hasn’t boosted achievement. The minority opinion quoted the opposing views of Michael Rebell of Teachers’ College Columbia.
Education Next asks Hanushek and Rebell to discuss: Is there a link between school spending and student achievement? What’s the court’s role?
Hanushek and Lindseth argue for more effective use of education dollars:
Since about 1970, the achievement levels of U.S. students on the reading and math tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have remained largely flat despite massive financial and other efforts to improve them. The problem is particularly acute for poor and minority students, with the average black and the average Hispanic student lagging three or four grade levels behind the average white student.
The solution we need lies in performance-based funding: a system of integrated education policies and funding mechanisms designed to drive and reward better performance by teachers, administrators, students, and others involved in the education process.
Rebell responds that courts must ensure “meaningful educational opportunities for all children.”
The evidence strongly indicates that money well spent does make a significant difference in student achievement.
What is most likely to fulfill the promise of improved student outcomes in the future is not any silver bullet remedy, but rather a pragmatic process that allows courts, legislatures, state education departments, and school districts to work collaboratively to focus on children’s needs and to implement meaningful reforms on a sustained basis.
How do we get “money well spent” vs. more money spent the same old way that hasn’t worked well before?