A Caltech Library Service

The Pursuit of Equality through Education Finance Reform


Hill, Sarah Anne (2007) The Pursuit of Equality through Education Finance Reform. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/6TEM-CW20.


Previous research on how court-ordered equalization affects public school expenditures has not yielded a clear pattern of results. While the literature agrees that court-ordered reform improves equality, there is disagreement over the impact of reform on education expenditures. One of the most comprehensive studies to date is that of Murray et al. (1998), but their results are quite sensitive to specification. Once court-ordered reform is treated as an endogenous variable, two-stage regression analyses show that reform achieves its direct aim of leading to a more equal distribution of expenditures across school districts, but it does not increase average per-pupil expenditures.

A consideration of the history of education finance in the United States helps determine why court-ordered reform does not bring about dramatic changes. Contrary to what much of the literature suggests, state governments have had a role in education finance since the 19th Century, and they assumed a large responsibility for education finance during the Great Depression. Since that time there has been a steady increase in the state government share of education revenue, but without sudden changes during the period of court-ordered reform. Regression analysis shows that the state share of education revenue typically increases on the order of 10% after court-ordered reform, with some states having much larger increases. In addition, a case study of education finance reform in Texas shows a state with political actors who do not wish to reform but who are being forced by the courts to consider changes to their system of education finance.

I argue that large changes were never to be expected as state governments have a long history of involvement in education finance, and to greatly increase that substantial role would prove quite difficult. In addition, these cases feature political actors being forced to reform a system that was already in equilibrium, and as has been shown in the literature, state legislatures are able to find ways of circumventing such limitations. Finally, these results also support the idea that court cases often reinforce a current trend in public policy rather than serving as a catalyst to begin a new movement.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:education finance; education policy
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Awards:Eleanor Searle Prize in Law, Politics, and Institutions, 2007.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick
Thesis Committee:
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick (chair)
  • Ueda, Michiko
  • Ordeshook, Peter C.
  • Hoffman, Philip T.
  • Alvarez, R. Michael
Defense Date:11 May 2007
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-05242007-232905
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:2033
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:31 May 2007
Last Modified:04 Jun 2024 22:32

Thesis Files

PDF (Hill_Dissertation.pdf) - Final Version
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page