A School Finance Research Agenda for an Era of Education Reform

Allan R. Odden
University of Wisconsin–Madison


Until about 1980, the issues surrounding public school finance remained the same. They were fiscal in nature and included spending inequalities related to differences in school district property wealth per pupil; technicalities related to various state equalization formulas; funding structures that recognized higher costs for special student populations; and, in some in­stances, state/local tax levels and burdens by income class. The major concern was how equitably to finance education in general. Stimulated largely by legal action mandating change, school fi­nance reform with respect to these issues became a top legislative priority in nearly all states in the 1970s.

Since the beginning of the education reform movement, how­ever, the issues related to public school finance have expanded rapidly and now include not only the financing of education in general but also the financing of numerous specific components of the education enterprise in local schools and districts. The new concern is how to finance education to improve its quality. As a result, the focus of school finance research needs to expand in order to provide the substantive underpinnings for this new pol­icy interest.

This article discusses a series of new research directions for school finance that should accompany this expansion of policy issues. The first section briefly describes why and how school finance has evolved so rapidly in the past few years. The next section outlines a series of school finance research topics related to recently enacted state education reforms. The following section identifies research topics that link traditional school finance issues to the funding of education reforms. The last section identifies education policy issues beyond those related to current education reforms and suggests school finance research issues related to them. This article is not a comprehensive overview of all new trends in school finance research. It concentrates narrowly on issues raised by state education reform agendas.

This article was originally published in the Journal of Education Finance by the University of Illinois Press and Journal Storage (JSTOR).

Suggested citationOdden, A. R. (1986, July). A school finance research agenda for an era of education reform [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.