Sustained, multi-faceted, political campaigns, including litigation, are the recipe to secure new state investments in PK-12 education


Winning more equitable public school funding requires a year-to-year, multi-faceted, political effort focused squarely on the elected executive and legislative branches of state government, according to new research released today by Education Law Center. While the courts can play a crucial, often pivotal role, success in addressing the deep disparities in school funding across the country must be approached as an ongoing political endeavor, backed by sufficient financial support to sustain reform campaigns over the long haul.

The ELC report, From Courthouse to Statehouse—and Back Again, draws lessons from an in-depth study of four states—Massachusetts, Kansas, Washington, and New Jersey—to shed light on a key question that has long challenged public school advocates: What does it take to achieve substantive, structural  change in how states fund public education, especially for students enrolled in schools segregated by poverty and race?

“Generations of students have been consigned by their states to schools that are chronically and severely under-resourced, a condition now laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and report co-author. “We offer lessons from hard-fought, successful campaigns in four states to help advocates build more powerful movements for school funding reform in statehouses across the country.”

The ELC report is the first of its kind in the field to show how different strategies—from grassroots organizing to state-specific research to targeted messaging and communications—can, when combined with strategically timed and pursued litigation, achieve successful school funding reforms in state legislatures. The report’s lessons provide a roadmap for families and students, advocates and lawyers, teachers and their unions, school boards, district leaders, and concerned citizens to build strong and enduring campaigns to prevent state funding cuts, oppose the diversion of public funds to vouchers, and secure and maintain new investments in public education, a challenge made even more urgent by the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.

Since the 1960s, the failure of far too many states to adequately and equitably fund their public schools  may be the most entrenched barrier to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for our nation’s children, especially students in poverty, students of color, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable student populations. Over the last 50 years, lawsuits challenging inadequate school funding have been pursued in the courts of 48 states, with varying degrees of success.

The report identifies six “keys to victory” in achieving school funding reform in the four profiled states:

  • Winning a Political Majority is The Goal.
  • Litigation Must be Undertaken in the Service of Political Campaigns.
  • Courts Are Political Too.
  • Research—Broadly Defined and State-Specific—is Crucial.
  • An Aggressive Communications Strategy is Also Essential.
  • Campaigns Require Significant, Sustained Financial Support.

The ELC report shows there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successful school funding reform. But the victories in the four states profiled in the report provide important insights into what it takes to achieve concrete benefits for students and their schools. Even though the states differ in their political, historical, and demographic contexts, the finance reform campaigns in each resulted in significant new investments in education by following certain key strategies consistent across all four states.

“Victories in Massachusetts, Kansas, Washington, and New Jersey show that the path to school funding equity is not linear, but dynamic and cyclical. It may run through the courthouse but always ends up in the statehouse,” said Sharon Krengel, ELC Policy & Outreach Director. “Our study shows success depends on mounting broad, multi-faceted campaigns, built from the ground up and able to nimbly move from statehouse to courthouse and back again.”

Read the Executive Summary of From Courthouse to Statehouse—and Back Again here and the full report here.


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24



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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240