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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