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Journal Issue: Financing Schools Volume 7 Number 3 Winter 1997

School Finance Policy and Students' Opportunities to Learn: Kentucky's Experience
Jacob E. Adams


School finance reform is usually done piecemeal, with many changes made to an existing framework over a period of decades. Also, finance reform is generally carried out separately from reform of school programs or governance. A notable exception is Kentucky which, in response to a 1989 state supreme court ruling, created an entirely new elementary and secondary education system with new finance and governance mechanisms and new academic expectations and accountability mechanisms.

This article summarizes the major elements of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and research on its impact. Revenues increased, funding differences between districts shrank, but basic allocations (percentage spent on instruction, facilities, and so on) changed little. A new Office of Education Accountability, reporting to the legislature, tracks incentives and sanctions for schools that progress or regress against their baseline performance. School site councils (SSCs) are in operation, with authority to hire the principal and to make decisions about curriculum, instruction, and the school budget.

Major instructional changes were implemented in the early elementary grades, and model restructured high schools are being studied. Significant supplemental services (both academic and social) have been added. Overall, much progress has been made in putting new structures in place, though changes in practice evolve more slowly. The article identifies barriers to change and concludes that KERA's strategy is promising, but more focus should be placed on school-level uses of education dollars. SSCs have authority, but they should also be offered substantial guidance regarding which practices will most reliably promote learning.