In response to court decisions, several states, e.g., Alabama, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, and Wyoming, are presently attempting to construct practical definitions of an "adequate" education. These efforts take place against an historic backdrop. Table 7-1 utilizes a categorization of states-by-litigation status developed by Alan Hickrod, and then calculates real changes in education spending for each state from 1970 to 1995.
School spending has been increasing in virtually every state, and we make no claim here that it is a concern for "adequacy" alone which is propelling the change. Our contention is more simple. A national pattern of growing elementary and secondary expenditures in states with or without a history of "equity" and/or "adequacy" litigation is apparent. With the exception of California, all states have increased average per-pupil spending in the last quarter century, and most have increased it dramatically. In some states without litigation, spending has increased to avoid litigation. In other states where courts have upheld previous financing schemes, spending has still increased at rates similar to those where litigation had an opposite result. Thus, we contend that the national "adequacy" debate can be seen, in part, as an effort to evaluate whether this spending growth has been sufficient and to ensure that the new money is distributed within states in a fashion that will produce desired outcomes.
Despite recent interest, "adequacy" is not a new concept in school finance. Charles Benson explained it as early as 1978 (Benson, 1978). Kirst and Garms explored the term in a chapter on the evolving context of education reform in the initial American Education Finance Association yearbook published two decades ago (Kirst and Garms, 1980).
But although the term "adequacy" has been used for 20 years, the concept has had a practical school finance meaning for much longer because many states have politically determined "adequate" levels of inputs to support the schooling process. The "foundation" distribution formula approach has existed since the beginning of the twentieth century, with elucidations by early school finance scholars such as Cubberley (1919a, 1919b), Mort et al. (1960), and Johns et al. (1983). Their "foundation plans" had "adequate'' as an assumed condition. The "foundation" was, and in most states still is, a per-pupil dollar floor below which a state does not permit a district's spending to fall.
When the "foundation" finance distribution concept was originally adopted by states, and as it continues in most states today, governors and legislatures define "adequate" by determining how much state revenue is available, or how much additionally they are willing to generate through added taxation. This aggregate revenue amount has then been embedded in a minimum "foundation"