Equalization aid, a term often used synonymously with state aid, refers to general use financial assistance that is available to public school districts in the United States. The use of such funding is considered non-restrictive and can be used for a broad range of purposes to be determined by the district (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2006). How much equalization aid is awarded to each school district is determined by complicated formulas that vary in each state. At its simplest level, the calculation of equalization aid considers factors such as student enrollment, school assessed value, and levels of poverty when measured or compared against target spending levels and target property tax rates. Though each state may use a different formula to precisely calculate aid, this measuring tool provides a general understanding of how such aid is determined.
Keywords Adequacy; Average Daily Attendance (ADA); Brown v. Board of Education; Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); Equalization Aid; Per-Pupil Spending; Revenues; Segregation; Serrano v. Priest; Unification Clause; Vouchers
Equalization aid, a term often used synonymously with state aid, refers to general use financial assistance that is available to public school districts in the United States. The use of such funding is considered non-restrictive and can be used for a broad range of purposes to be determined by the district (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2006). How much equalization aid is awarded to each school district is determined by complicated formulas that vary in each state. At its simplest level, the calculation of equalization aid considers factors such as student enrollment, school assessed value, and levels of poverty when measured or compared against target spending levels and target property tax rates. Basically, equalization aid is determined according to the following formula: "the aid per pupil equals target spending per pupil minus what the school district can raise on its own" ("State Aid to Local Schools," n.d.). Though each state may use a different formula to precisely calculate aid, this measuring tool provides a general understanding of how such aid is determined.
As a nation that prides itself on democratic values, justice, and prosperity, the U.S. has always seen education as a way for the poor or oppressed to better their prospects and raise their positions in life. Equalization aid is based on this philosophy. By financing low-income schools and increasing their per-pupil expenditures, those students have equal chances of succeeding or prospering as those in wealthier communities. One government policy that supports such thinking is the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally known as Title 1 funding. To better support and assist schools that serve primarily low-income students, the ESEA enables school districts to use revised, more flexible calculations in determining federal, state, and local funding. Research has shown that low-income students can succeed and do well in school but may need more resources in order to achieve such academic goals. This shift in policy enables teachers, administrators, and other school officials to have greater flexibility in deciding what works for their particular school population. This method of school management has been shown to be more effective than the federal government's dictating local policies (United States Department of Education. Policy Studies Association, 1998, p. 15). In receiving such government funding, each school district must show how it is using the money in a responsible, deliberate, and purposeful manner. In other words, schools must show a plan for how they will distribute such state aid funding and then show how these funds were actually distributed (p. 32).
Equalizing Wealth Disparities
In the United States, all young people between the ages of 5 and 18 have the inalienable right to a quality education provided by the government. It is largely each state's responsibility to finance and support the educational endeavors of the population of those who reside within its borders. Local financing of school districts has proven to be problematic as wealthy communities who pay higher property taxes can pay for good, quality elementary and secondary schools while more impoverished neighborhoods struggle to adequately finance their schools. To make financing more equal, the states have come up with various polices and formulas to better ensure that students in low-income communities can receive a quality education (Payne, 2005, p. 843). Some states have voluntarily developed programs to provide aid to these low-income schools while others have had their hands forced to action through legislation. For most states, however, determining which schools get aid and how much they should receive remains a contentious issue influenced by politics, wealth, community mores, and population makeup (p. 844). Some states, such as Kentucky, have had success with finance reform programs. Recognizing a need for real change, Kentucky reformed its local governance, curriculum, school finance, and more. By pairing these changes with providing additional resources to its low-income students, the state saw a significant increase of the academic performance of its low income, traditionally underserved minority population (p. 846).
Examples of How Equalization Aid Works in Different States
States are largely responsible for funding their own public schools, which includes being responsible for ensuring that funds are distributed in an even-handed fashion. Title 1 and other legislative acts state that per-pupil spending must be similar regardless of a school district's wealth. Equalization aid helps to ensure that low-income students in impoverished communities receive comparable funding so that they may receive a quality education.
State of California
In the state of California, the 1971 Serrano v. Priest state court case ruled that school district funding could not be solely based on income from property taxes as this was inherently unequal and unconstitutional. In other words, all students, regardless of their family income, had the right to receive quality education provided by the state. In order to determine equal distribution of funds, Lee (1998) states that "wealth-related differences in school funding must be reduced within a 'band' of equality extending $100 per pupil above and below the state average in per pupil spending" (p. 3). In other words, no more than a plus or minus $100 disparity when compared to the standard should exist between per pupil expenditure regardless of familial income.
Since Serrano v. Priest, various legislations have been passed to ensure general purpose funds are distributed accordingly and fairly. In 1983, the revenue limit, cost of living adjustment and equalization aid policies were revised to provide districts of the same category the same dollar amounts per average daily attendance (ADA). This approach was modified to allow low-performing school districts to receive more equalization aid. The amount received largely depended on how much funding was needed in order to bring its revenue limit to the average amount in its slated category. Moreover, aid was significantly affected by student attendance; something that previously was not a consideration. Equalizing the funding for all the school districts within the state itself has proven a difficult endeavor due to the cost of applying such equalization policies and determining what specifically constitutes "adequate equalization." Lee (1998) argues that using a sliding scale for calculating cost of living adjustment (COLA) may be the most efficient and effective way for determining equalization aid allotment, so that low-revenue school districts receive sufficient levels of funding (Lee, 1998, p. 6).
In efforts to ensure that every student within its state received a quality education, Oregon established its Quality Education Model (QEM). The QEM is the standard for which Oregon's elementary, middle school, and high school students receive funding. It also determines how much funding low income schools should receive. One issue the state faces is a significant rural population that comprises about one third of the state's geography. Due to transportation costs, smaller pupil-teacher ratios, telecommunications costs, spotty infrastructure, and related expenditures, it is an accepted fact that such per pupil spending is higher than for students of larger populated urban areas. As such, these factors must be considered when...
(The entire section is 3837 words.)