The National Adequacy
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
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
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