Inequality in Public Education Finance Systems: Parental Wealth and the Maintenance of the Social-Class Structure


John Kaiser

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Beginning in the late sixties state finance systems of public education began to receive heavy criticism for their reliance on local property taxes. Commentators argue that local funding makes the quality of a student's education a function of his/her parent's socioeconomic class position. In 1971 the California Supreme Court case Serrano vs. Priest ushered in an era of judicial action mandating funding equalization. Since then almost all of the states have gone to court on the grounds that their funding systems violated state education and equal protection clauses. While only about half of these challenges have met with success, the implementation of equalization formulas in the successful cases has not delivered equal access to a quality education for students in different districts in these states. Studies illustrate that equalizing monetary inputs does not necessarily yield increased access to educations of similar quality. Without "quality equalization" our public education system acts as a vehicle for reproducing inter-generational class positions. The relationship between funding, outside variables, student achievement, and quality of education will be assessed within a social reproduction framework in order to illustrate that disparate access to a quality education significantly reduces inter-generational socioeconomic mobility.


R. Rothstein



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