Arkansas is following some two dozen other states that have had to respond to a court finding that its current financing system is unconstitutional. These events are always traumatic, but—from a slightly different perspective—they offer enormous opportunity.
The nation is watching to see what happens with New York City school finance. After a dozen years in the courts, the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. New York is now back at the Court of Appeals for a final judgment about the added appropriations that the legislature must send to the city. This judgment is, however, unlikely to be the final statement. If the legislature must come up with an incredible sum of money close to the more than $5 billion currently on the table, it may well balk, precipitating a true constitutional crisis.
By our cultural heritage we are led to believe that the performance of students can be improved by providing more resources to the schools. This would allow schools to provide more individualized instruction, to hire more qualified teachers, and to expand program offerings. But what is often missed in current discussions is that this is exactly the experiment that we have been conducting. School expenditures per pupil, after allowing for inflation, almost doubled between 1960 and 1975. These increases led to smaller classes, more teachers with advanced degrees, more experienced teachers, and better paid teachers. But there were no concomitant improvements in student achievement.
California's education finance system is broken in every way, but the real story is the dismal achievement of kids in California. What needs to be fixed is not just how schools are financed, but more important how the whole K-12 educational system is organized, and especially the incentives given to schools to do better.