Dollars for Sense: Assessing Achievement Gaps in Arkansas in the Context of Substantial Funding Increases

Joshua H. Barnett, Nathan C. Jensen, Gary W. Ritter


Forty-four of the fifty states have experienced school finance lawsuits as a consequence of funding gaps between rich and poor districts (Rebell, 2001). In some states, such as Kentucky, lawsuits brought about by property poor districts have resulted in a statewide remedy that reforms the property tax system and seeks to provide every child with an adequate education. In other states, such as New Jersey, lawsuits brought about by poor districts resulted in legal decisions and legislative responses that attempt to match the lowest wealth districts with the spending levels of the highest wealth districts. Throughout the litigation across the country and the respective judicial and legislative responses to those cases, the motivation for the cases is uniform – some individuals within the state contend that their students are being presented inferior educational opportunities compared to other students in the state.

As a result of this inferior opportunity, legal action is used to leverage more resources for students (Monk, Pijanowski, & Hussain, 1997; Monk, Roellke, & Brent, 1996; Odden, Monk, Nakib, & Picus, 1995; Odden & Picus, 1992). However, these conversations are generally about all of the students in a particular district or school being underfunded. This finance conversation is occurring at the same time that the achievement gap debate continues to occur across the nation (Education Trust, 2005; Hertert, Busch, & Odden, 1994), especially in light of the 55th anniversary of the Brown v Board decision and the inauguration of America’s first minority president. While achievement gap conversations can quickly expand to include every group of students, we focus on actual impact of policy decisions targeted to decrease the achievement gap in one state by providing categorical funding for certain students. Thus, in this paper, we respond to the nexus of the school finance discussion and achievement gap discussion by examining the performance trends for Hispanic and low income students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the Arkansas Benchmark, and the ACT. This analysis allows us to examine whether increases in student performance, or the narrowing of achievement gaps, followed these targeted increases in financial resources. Specifically, we examine two related, but different, achievement gaps: the white-Hispanic gap and the gap between those students eligible for free and reduced lunch and those students not eligible. Before responding to these questions, we briefly present the context of our data to explain the school finance situation in the state of interest.



Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.