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School Finance and Courts: Does Reform Matter, and How Can We Tell?


by Bruce D. Baker & Kevin G. Welner — 2011

Background/Context: School finance litigation has often prompted funding reforms, but what happens as a result is the subject of considerable dispute.

Purpose: This article explores design problems encountered in studies examining the nature and effects of those reforms.

Analysis: After describing the development and current status of school finance litigation, the authors explore methodological complexities associated with estimating the effects of state school finance reforms. Then, following a review of the research literature that provides the most direct and empirically rigorous evaluations of the achievement effects of these reforms, the authors critique a growing body of weaker but nonetheless influential literature focused on attacking school finance reform and more generally on discrediting judicial involvement in public schooling and finance litigation. In the article's final section, the authors review school finance reform in the four states analyzed in an influential recent book by Hanushek and Lindseth, taking a second look at what the book's authors concluded were disappointing outcomes.

Conclusions: Methodological complexities and design problems plague finance impact studies. Although there are high-quality studies covering these issues, the research appearing to have the greatest influence in media coverage and policymaking is often advocacy-oriented and of lesser quality.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 11, 2011, p. 2374-2414
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16106, Date Accessed: 11/26/2014 9:56:38 AM

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About the Author
  • Bruce Baker
    Rutgers University
    E-mail Author
    BRUCE BAKER is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University where his research focuses on education finance policy and reform and on teacher and administrator labor markets. He sits on the editorial boards of Education Finance and Policy and the Journal of Education Finance, is lead author of Financing Education Systems (Merrill-Prentice Hall) and numerous peer reviewed articles in outlets including Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Economics of Education Review, Education Policy Analysis Archives and law review articles in outlets including Michigan Journal of Race and Law and Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
  • Kevin Welner
    University of Colorado at Boulder
    E-mail Author
    KEVIN WELNER is professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, specializing in educational policy, law, and school reform. He is director of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) headquartered at CU-Boulder. His recent work includes three books: Think Tank Research Quality: Lessons for Policymakers, the Media, and the Public (2010), NeoVouchers: The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling (2008), and Education Policy and Law: Current Issues (2008).
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