The fiftieth anniversary of the ESEA is coming up in April of 2015, and we’ll be hearing a lot about it – you know, “looking forward, looking back.” Make no mistake, I adore history and historians of the federal role. I like to kvetch about NCLB’s problems as much as the next College of Education faculty member. But my intellectual commitments are increasingly to policy analysis aimed at the future tense, and I am looking for new collaborators to get me to think in creative ways about that.
My colleague Professor Eric Houck, a school finance scholar at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and I wrote a paper for the Russell Sage Foundation’s gathering on ESEA at 50 in New York last week. We are very interested in how Congress could build some incentives for states to re-vamp their state finance systems to make them more equitable into the ESEA. We argue that federal policy has swung toward adequacy since NCLB, and suggest that when we meld the concepts of adequacy from school finance and opportunity-to-learn from education policy together, there is a justification for incentivizing equity. We propose a competitive grant program within ESEA to make awards to states willing to revamp their state finance systems, either through better weighting of formulae to support students with the greatest needs, or by asking states to increase their share of spending, thereby blunting somewhat the effects of the local property-tax base system. Although the Equity and Excellence Commission’s 2013 Report to the Secretary of Education called for a stronger federal role in that dimension, it never explained how it could be accomplished in policy.