Oregon’s school funding debate has entered a new phase. Last week several school districts and parents sued the state and key legislators demanding more money be spent on public education.
This new lawsuit goes beyond equal funding of rich and poor school districts, or equity, to what its supporters call adequacy.
The plaintiffs are relying on a provision in the Oregon Constitution that requires legislators to appropriate enough money for K-12 public education to meet quality goals established by law.
Oregon’s quality goals rest on an unscientific, unproven Quality Education Model that currently says spending another two billion dollars per biennium would supposedly get 90 percent of all school children up to educational benchmarks. It reaches this questionable conclusion by assuming, among other things, that all students attend one-size-fits-all prototype grade, middle and high schools that don’t exist in reality.
The flaws inherent in such models were exposed in a comprehensive critique presented last year. It concluded that these models should be seen as political, not scientific documents, in part because there is little evidence that simply spending more money on schools leads to more learning.
Adequacy lawsuits focus almost entirely on how many more dollars courts should force legislators to allocate. Lost in the legal wrangling is the issue of academic results. Spending another two billion dollars may satisfy the Quality Education Model, but it won’t ensure that students actually learn more.
In fact, taking two billion dollars from other government programs, or from taxpayers, could well harm some of the very families public education is meant to help.
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