Six ‘keys to victory’ in reforming school funding

How funding reform campaigns in four states led to led 'significant new investments in education'
By: | February 24, 2021

Schools will only receive equitable funding if communities can win sustained political support for multi-year, multi-faceted education spending initiatives, a new report finds.

From Courthouse to Statehouse—and Back Again,” by the Education Law Center, examines successful campaigns in four states to provide a roadmap for equitable funding campaigns elsewhere.

“Generations of students have been consigned by their states to schools that are chronically and severely under-resourced, a condition now laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Sciarra, the center’s executive director and report co-author. “We offer lessons from hard-fought, successful campaigns in four states to help advocates build more powerful movements for school funding reform in statehouses across the country.”

Courts will likely play a key role in funding reform but true success requires ongoing political commitment and the financial support the goes with, Sciarra said.

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The report examines funding efforts in Kansas, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington to determine actions and attitudes that drove substantive, structural change in public education funding—especially for schools segregated by poverty and race. The authors analyze the roles of grassroots organizing, state-specific research, litigation and other approaches.

The report’s guidance for families and students, advocates and lawyers, teachers and their unions, school boards, district leaders, and concerned citizens includes opposing the use of public funds to vouchers.

The report identifies six “keys to victory” from the four states where funding reform led to ‘significant new investments in education’:

  • Winning a political majority is the goal.
  • Litigation must be undertaken in the service of political campaigns.
  • Courts are political, too.
  • Research—broadly defined and state-specific—is crucial.
  • An aggressive communications strategy is essential.
  • Campaigns require significant, sustained financial support.

“Victories in Massachusetts, Kansas, Washington, and New Jersey show that the path to school funding equity is not linear, but dynamic and cyclical. It may run through the courthouse but always ends up in the statehouse,” said Sharon Krengel, the Education Law Center’s policy and outreach director.

“Our study shows success depends on mounting broad, multi-faceted campaigns, built from the ground up and able to nimbly move from statehouse to courthouse and back again,” Krengel said.

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