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The National Adequacy Trend

From California to New York and North Dakota to Arkansas, states across the country are moving toward Adequacy, a school funding system that works by meeting the real needs of students. Through community mobilization, litigation, and legislation, advocates and lawmakers are changing the way states pay for education.

Historically, a state's portion of public school revenue has been determined by politics, resulting in what ACCESS (Advocacy Center for Children’s Educational Success with Standards) calls "[school aid that] represents the balance of political power in a given state."

Over the past 15 years, however, 49 of the 50 states have adopted learning standards. A new set of questions has emerged as to how states should fund schools in order to align resources with academic achievement.

The alignment process results in questions like:

  • What is needed to enable all students the opportunities to succeed?
  • How much money is needed to build and maintain these opportunities?
  • What kind of state system would distribute adequate state aid equitably?


The key to the answers—and a critical component of any Adequacy model—is a costing-out study. Costing-out involves using a scientific way of determining the actual cost of educating all children to have a chance at meeting learning standards, with the goal of basing school funding on the results.

By focusing on the rationale for adequate levels of funding for schools, Adequacy ensures that school finance systems fully fund the resources schools need to meet their educational goals. Instead of determining school funding based on the legislative willingness to make funds available, states must give evidence that the amount of funding they allocate to education is enough for local districts to provide all students a proper education.

In other words, states must determine the cost of a quality education and fund it.

Since the first costing-out study in Massachusetts in 1991, over 30 others have been undertaken in almost 30 states. Many states have initiated their own costing-out studies, either through their state departments of education, legislatures, or other bodies commissioned by the legislature or governor. All have been strongly influenced by public advocacy.

But not all studies came about because of the desire for a critical look at school funding. Many are the result of litigation. Every state constitution guarantees all children a free public education, and some courts have declared their state's school funding system unconstitutional and ordered the state to conduct costing-out studies. Lawsuits challenging state methods of funding public schools have been brought in 45 of the 50 states.

In still many other cases, costing-out studies have been performed by non-governmental bodies, such as research, policy, or advocacy organizations.

Wisconsin in the Adequacy Movement

Wisconsin's costing-out study was conducted in 2002 by the Institute for Wisconsin's Future (IWF)—WAES' research and staffing partner. Funding Our Future: An Adequacy Model for Wisconsin School Finance outlines the problems with the state's present system, talks about the link between academic standards and educational accountability, and explains a reform model that actually meets the real needs of real children.

Based on input from education specialists, teachers, administrators, and finance experts (the professional judgment method), the model looks at the resources—facilities, staffing, and materials—determined to be necessary for all children to achieve proficiency. It takes into consideration the increased costs of educating low-income, ESL, and special education students. Based on its Adequacy figures (a foundation level combined with additional aid for special need students) for the state's 426 school districts, it proposes a 32% increase in school funding overall.

IWF's costing-out study served as the basis for the Wisconsin Adequacy Plan, the school-funding reform model offered by WAES. The plan is a policy model that applies dollar figures and specific methods for generating and distributing school aid based on Adequacy. It also takes into account another category of special needs students—those living in small, rural districts. A revised version of the Wisconsin Adequacy Plan will be available Fall of 2007.

The Role of WAES

Because of intensive organizing at the grassroots level, WAES has been successful in bringing Adequacy to the legislative table at a time when school-finance reform is an acknowledged priority. WAES has called for a state-sponsored cost-out as a part of reform, and most recently, the Governor's Task Force on Educational Excellence recognized this.

In its final report, the Task Force explicitly recommended a "cost-out" or "Adequacy study" to determine the cost of educating children to state standards, using both professional consultants and a broad process of civic engagement. Several dozen other recommendations talked about adequate state funding of public schools, moving the debate in the right direction.

As the governor examines the Task Force's work and the legislature enters another budget cycle, WAES partners will continue to push for adequate funding for schools.

For more details and resources on costing-out, visit the ACCESS website.

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