School finance is one of those education policy topics located at the extreme ends of the important continuum as well as the boring continuum. On the one hand, school funding is relevant to virtually all major education policy decisions at the state-, district-, and school levels - at least in the background, but usually in the foreground. And the finance research literature is increasingly clear that there is a causal relationship between increased and/or progressive funding and better student outcomes (e.g., Jackson 2018; Baker 2016).
And yet, on the other hand, school finance is probably among the least sexy topics in our public education discourse, in part because the money behind policies is never as exciting as the policies themselves, but also because finance research is complicated and esoteric, and reading the research sometimes feels like reading audited financial statements.
Yesterday, the Shanker Institute, in collaboration with Bruce Baker and Mark Weber from Rutgers, released a new report and public dataset on school finance in the U.S.
It's still not sexy. Just to make sure, we called it the School Finance Indicators Database.
But we did try to make it more accessible and useful to the general public than the typical finance fare. The report presents key findings from the database, specifically state-by-state results on three “core” indicators: fiscal effort, adequacy, and progressivity. We feel that these three indicators provide a pretty good summary of states’ school finance systems. Rather than going through the report’s findings, here are a few things to keep in mind when reading it.