School funding problems series 1 by Sage institution


This study was undertaken to examine the differences in school funding perceptions between Alabama school superintendents
and legislators. The overarching purpose was to determine areas of agreement and disagreement so that intermediaries
working with both of these groups can help public policy makers make the best education funding decisions through the
legislative process.
educational administration, leadership & policy, education, social sciences, general education, history & sociology of education,
educational, research education, theory and practice

It was hypothesized that there would be differences between
legislators and superintendents across four constructs: Equity
and Adequacy, Personal Values, Political Ideology, and
Social Influence. Several demographic variables were evaluated. While the study did not yield as many differences as
expected, it is conclusive that important differences do exist;
the results are important because school funding decision
makers must find common ground to equitably and adequately fund education for every child.
School finance is not a new problem in the United States nor
is it a new problem in the state of Alabama. It has been in
existence and evolving since the beginning of public education. During the 2004 democratic presidential primaries, 

Senator John Edwards struck a chord with voters and educators when he spoke of “two Americas: one for the wealthy
and privileged, another for those not so lucky” (Bartolomeo,
Likewise, since the beginning of the school finance
debate, researchers have found spending differences between
tax-wealthy school districts and those poorer districts with
limited tax capacity. Students and schools may be shortchanged in the quality of education because of the lack of
financial resources. In a study of New York City schools,
Bartolomeo (2004) analyzed the inequities teachers and students experienced due to the funding divide. Bartolomeo
found that poorer districts in New York had higher turnover,
fewer textbooks, more unsafe conditions and older buildings
when compared with their wealthier counterparts elsewhere
in the state. 

Class sizes in the poor districts were 30 to 35
compared with the wealthier districts’ class sizes of 15 to 25.
The results of this study provided evidence that a strong tax
base resulted in more funding, afforded better programs,
higher quality textbooks and more manageable class sizes.
A similar study found that the majority of students who are
classified as having the greatest needs and a higher cost to
educate tend to live in poor districts (Moran, 1999). These
costly students more often than not reside in property-poor
districts; this creates a greater obstacle for district leaders to
generate sufficient local taxes to meet their educational needs. 

School finance in Alabama presents problems similar to
those in other parts of the country. Many believe that current
funding issues in the education system are rife with inequity
and the lack of equal opportunity for students from different
socioeconomic classes (Crawford, 2004). Moran (1999)
attributed the lack of opportunities to the differences in funds
collected by the individual school districts. These problems,
while not new, remain unsolved.
In Alabama, the budgeting process is spelled out in state
law. Specific taxes are designated to the Education Trust
Fund, which funds education in the state. These are primarily 

sales tax and income tax, which both fluctuate with the state’s
economy. When the economy is growing, there tends to be
additional revenue. When the economy slows down, the
Education Trust Fund has a hard time meeting existing financial obligations.
The Alabama Education Trust Fund provides the financial
resources that support the legislatively approved minimum
educational programs for each district and each student
throughout the state. Any additional program offered by a
district that is above and beyond what the state mandates is a
result of the expenditure of local tax dollars. Some districts
have the potential to generate greater amounts of local taxes;
therefore, they can offer enriched learning opportunities over
tax poorer districts.
Local school districts have very limited authority to
impose additional taxes for educational purposes without
first gaining full support of the Alabama Legislature.
Statewide legislation only allows county commissions to
levy limited county and district school taxes. If a district
wishes to exceed that amount, they must secure a three-fifths
vote of the House and Senate delegation to have a proposed
constitutional amendment placed on a ballot for a statewide
vote, and then a majority of state voters is required for its

 As a result, funding for education in Alabama relies
heavily on legislators and local superintendents who work
with legislators to determine funding priorities. The decision-making process of these groups of individuals is influenced by internal and external factors that affect their belief
systems. This study investigates how these belief systems
influence the decisions of legislators and superintendents.

Literature Review
The politics of school funding tend to blend philosophical,
social, and economic differences into a structure recognized
as “free public schools.” It is impossible to separate education funding from resources. The level of funding drives not
only the quantity but also the quality of resources available
to create public educational opportunities.
The success or failure of schools is strongly connected to
the financial support made available to them through the
levying of taxes and the allocation of revenues (Harvey,
1989). In this regard, major legal decisions have occurred in
Alabama affecting the educational funding throughout the

To understand where the state is today, it is important
to know where it was in past years.
Historical Events in Alabama That Held Funding
Three major legal decisions that affected education funding in Alabama have all centered on the state’s right to
define what is appropriate legislative support of school
The 1950s were an extremely volatile time in Alabama
history. In an attempt to avoid desegregation of public
schools, the Alabama Legislature amended the 1901
Constitution in 1956 (Harvey, 2000). This amendment has
served as the basis upon which the State of Alabama provides funding for schools based on its available revenue. It
also eliminates any obligation to the needs or quality of those
educational opportunities (Harvey, 2000).
Since the 1950s, proration of educational funding has
been a major factor in the history of Alabama. Proration in
the Education Trust Fund has been declared 17 times since
1950; 15 times it continued until the end of the fiscal year, an
average of once every 3.66 years.
The second legal factor that continues to influence legislation and policy decisions in Alabama was the 1973 ruling by
the U.S. Supreme Court on the case of San Antonio v. Rodriquez,
where the court ruled that public schooling was not a right
guaranteed under the United States Constitution (Schrag,
2004). This ruling essentially assigned obligations for any kind
of an education to the states, where it remains today.
The third and most significant legal factor that transformed the state funding scheme from what was known as
“The Minimum Program,” prior to 1995, to the current funding scheme known as “The Foundation Program” was
Alabama Coalition for Equity v. Hunt (1993). In an effort to
more clearly define the state’s obligation to provide equitable and adequate educational opportunities, 33 school systems sued the State of Alabama in Ace v. Hunt (1993). This
court action resulted in the creation of a declaration in which
the judge stated, “that education is a fundamental right under
the Alabama Constitution.” This ruling forced the legislature
to adopt a different method of distributing state funds (Ward
& Sauser, 1997). 

The final disposition of this case was never completed to
the extent of defining and implementing a funding scheme
based on a set of defined outcomes, as many similar cases in
other states were able to accomplish. Instead, it ended in
2002. While considering a totally unrelated educational matter, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that it was not the
court’s responsibility to insure equity and adequacy of the
schools in Alabama. According to the Court, that responsibility rests in the authority of the Alabama legislature (Siegelman
v. Alabama Association of School Boards, 2001). This ruling
established the legal precedent that legislators control the
funding of public schools.
The major outcome of these three cases was that the legal
responsibility for school funding rests with the states. States
have a responsibility to provide equitable education for all
citizens, and legislators control the allocation of funds for
schools. Thus, legislators are the key to school funding
equity in the state.

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