, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 75-98

The equity effects of state school finance reforms: A methodological critique and new evidence

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Abstract

Since 1970, over half the states have reformed their school finance systems with improvement in equity of revenue and resource distributions as one of the stated goals. While numerous studies evaluating the equity effects of these often expensive reforms have been undertaken, there remains much disagreement about how to assess the reforms' impacts. In this article, we address the problems of measuring equity effects with an emphasis on the need for multiple definitions and an understanding of the value judgments inherent in all measures of equity. Next, three methodologies that have been used to assess the equity impacts of school finance reform are critiqued. Finally, in an effort to correct shortcomings of each, a fourth methodology is developed and new empirical evidence on the effects of reform based on that methodology are presented. The article concludes with observations about the importance of the choice of a methodology with which to evaluate complex policy changes that involve value judgments about what is fair, just, and equitable.

The authors contributed equally to this article, but for reasons of equity, the names are not listed alphabetically. The research was supported by funds from the Ford Foundation. We would like to thank James Knickman, Richard Schramm and two anonymous referees for comments provided on an earlier draft of the article, Chris Hakusa for computer assistance, and Karen Gruhn for research and secretarial assistance.