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Rebell Faces Off with Hoover Fellow over Costing-Out Studies in School Finance Cases

Showdown over Methods Used to Determine Billion-Dollar Allocations to Schools Is Highlight of American Education Finance Meetings.
Showdown over Methods Used to Determine 
Billion-Dollar Allocations to Schools
Is Highlight of American Education Finance Meetings

They're becoming ever more common in states across the country: lawsuits that result in millions, even billions, of additional dollars for school districts in poorer communities. Known as "educational adequacy" suits, they're predicated on the notion that, under state constitutions, all children are entitled to a sound and basic education.

Since 1989, plaintiffs have prevailed in 21 of 28 adequacy suits heard by states' highest courts.  In many of these cases, the massive funding increases to the school system have been set by the courts or the executive and the legislative branches based on "costing-out" studies that employ complex formulas and methodologies.   But are these studies truly the vast improvement over the backroom political dealing of yesteryear that their proponents claim - or are they, as critiques argue, nothing more than "pseudo-science?"  That question will be the focus of debate at a gathering of the nation's leading school finance experts in Denver on March 24th.  And while it may sound arcane, the answer has profound consequences for millions of American students and families.

The school finance experts will square off at the 31st Annual American Education Finance Association Conference, at a panel session titled, Adequacy Cost Studies: Critical Perspectives on the State of the Art.  The session will be held on Friday, March 24th from 10:15 A.M. -- 11:45 A.M.

Key presenters include attorney Michael A. Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, who has led the legal challenge to New York State's school funding that has resulted in a $5.6 billion dollar decision for New York City schools, and economist Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

Rebell will argue that cost analyses have appreciably improved the design and implementation of education finance systems. "Instead of seat-of-the-pants estimates and backroom deal-making, rational analysis that ties resource levels to actual student needs has become the prime input for legislative and executive funding decisions, and important evidence for the courts in a growing number of states," says Rebell.

Hanushek has called education cost analysis "psueudo-science" and costing-out studies "political documents."  The people who rely on costing-out exercises suggest that these analyses "provide a scientific answer to the disarmingly simple question, -'how much does it cost to provide an adequate education?' Nothing could be further from the truth.  The methodologies that have been developed are not just inaccurate.  They are quite generally unscientific.  They do not provide reliable and unbiased estimates of the necessary costs," says Hanushek.

Other finance experts on the panel include Richard Rothstein, Teachers College, Columbia University; Jay Chambers, American Institutes for Research; James Guthrie, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University; and Allan Odden, Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Wisconsin.

Also at the conference, Teachers College professor and former New York Times national education reporter Richard Rothstein will present a new concept for measuring educational equity at a pre-conference workshop on comprehensive educational equity.  "There are many things we want our schools to help our children do, including being good citizens, being ethical human beings, appreciating the arts, living healthy adult lives -- and we want education to be equitable in all of these areas," Rothstein says. Teachers College's Professor Henry Levin and Michael Rebell will also be presenting at this workshop which will be held on Wednesday, March 23rd from 8:30 A.M. to 12 Noon.

Published Friday, Mar. 31, 2006