Making Bricks Without Straw: An Analysis of Achievement Patterns and Fiscal Inequity an Inadequacy in Nebraska School System

Last Updated: October 01, 2004

An Investigation of School Closures Resulting from Forced District Reorganization in Arkansas
By Jerry Johnson, Ed.D., State Policy Studies Manager

Researchers, policymakers, taxpayers, and others have wondered whether "money matters" in the academic achievement of public school students—in other words, do the schools and districts that receive the most (in terms of financial resources) produce the most (in terms of measurable student achievement)? This issue is particularly pressing at the district level of performance, because districts are the recipients of state aid and the unit of analysis for determining whether state funding systems are adequate and/or equitable.

In an effort to explore whether "money matters" in Nebraska, this study analyzes the relationship between student achievement and fiscal resources among school systems in Nebraska. Moreover, in considering these relationships, it is important to recognize that the cost of providing an adequate education varies with the socio-economic characteristics of the district, and that other factors may affect the relationship between achievement patterns and fiscal resources—i.e., districts that serve higher percentages of students who face nonacademic barriers to high achievement (poverty, limited English language skills, etc.) require additional financial resources to "level the playing field" for their students with regard to students who do not face similar barriers. With that in mind, the study also includes socioeconomic characteristics of school systems and their communities in the analysis.

Findings suggest that the distribution of financial resources throughout the state does in fact mirror the distribution of student achievement, and in ways that place school systems serving the most challenged student populations in the unenviable position of attempting to do more for their students with significantly fewer resources available. The resources they are provided are inadequate to the challenge they face and inequitable compared to the resources received by districts facing fewer challenges to achievement.