K-12 Education’s Dependence on Tax Contributions: A Limitation for Children to Overcome the Barriers of Generational Poverty


Children can improve our society with the tools provided by older generations as they reach adulthood. A person’s future development depends on their early years of education to forge strong learning abilities and social development.[1] Under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), infringing on a child’s right to access to education constitutes a human rights violation.[2] The right to education is of such high importance that non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) are dedicated to ensuring this right is met across the globe. For instance, the United Nations created the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (“UNICEF”) after World War II to protect children’s rights and ensure children develop to their full potential.[3] UNICEF advocates for children’s access to education, including the right to high quality education that meet the demands of our digital age and potential barriers to employment.[4] Another NGO, Save the Children, seeks to help “children in rural America where early learning resources are scarce.”[5]

The United States Department of Education established the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”) in 2015 implementing high academic standards to ensure students’ future success.[6] However, ESSA has been criticized for failing to acknowledge economic inequality as a limitation for academic success since the program focuses strictly on test scores rather than the financial barriers behind a classroom environment.[7] Academic scholars have criticized the federal government for passing the responsibility of education to the states, since this has led to the implementation of different accountability systems and inconsistent practices across the country.[8] The inconsistency of chronically underfunded schools has prompted parents to advocate for their children’s right to equal access to education in the courtroom.[9]

In San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to recognize education as a fundamental right under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[10] Mexican-American parents filed a class action claiming economic disparity between San Antonio’s most affluent school district, which spent $594 per pupil, while Edgewood, an urban district with low property tax values, allocated a total of $356 per pupil.[11] The Court reasoned that a lack of personal resources does not conclusively yield an absolute deprivation of desired benefits, and the Equal Protection Clause does not expressly require identical equal advantages.[12] Despite the above binding authority, all U.S. states include the right to education in their respective constitutions, where a majority designate education as a fundamental right at the state level.[13]

This paper will explain why a hybrid model for K-12 school funding is the most suitable financial system to address children’s abridged right to education in the U.S. Although the hybrid model poses its own challenges, it exceeds the expectations by going beyond a district’s property values by considering malleable factors that mold according to the local neighborhoods it serves.


1. Shaping K-12 Education through “Adequacy over Equity” Approach

School funding is distributed according to the local taxes that result from variations on property values.[14] School financing has shifted from an equity to an adequacy approach, which focuses on children’s right to a certain quality of education and the sufficiency of school funding to meet such demands, while the former only seeks equal allocation of money spent per-pupil.[15] The precedential case that introduced the adequacy approach to the courts and the legislature was the Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision in Rose v. Council for Better Education (1989).[16] In Rose, the court held that the per-pupil spending was unconstitutional under the state constitution because it failed to provide an efficient system where all children received a proper and adequate education.[17] Furthermore, reports have found a “relation between educational spending and student achievement,” and the results magnify depending on the students’ socioeconomic background.[18]

2. Funding Scheme of K-12 public school districts

Kindergarten through twelfth grade education (K-12) is funded by a combination of local, state, and federal money.[19] Most of the funding comes from state and local sources, in which government representatives implement different formulas to allocate funds wherever they consider fairly.[20] For instance, in the fiscal year 2021, the federal government only provided 11% of education funding in the country, while 44% was raised through local revenue and 45% was provided by states via their revenue streams.[21] State revenues consist of various sources such as individual income taxes, businesses’ general sales, and estate taxes.[22] Local funding entails the collection of local property taxes, in other words, the amount of money the government receives from the money spent and earned by people living in each locality.[23] Therefore, funding varies widely “among school districts based on the wealth of families living in them.”[24] This allocation disparity furnishes inconsistent preparation and access to resources for K-12 students because it all depends on their socioeconomic background.[25]

The Education Commission of the States (“ECS”) is a non-profit organization that completes research and reports on U.S. education public policy.[26] The ECS has identified four general formulas that states have applied to finance their education: (1) the student-based foundation, (2) the resource-based allocation, (3) the guaranteed tax base, and the (4) hybrid model.[27] With the student-based foundation, districts receive a fixed amount per student but may receive additional funding for students with higher education needs.[28] The resource-based approach provides all districts with a minimum base amount for resources such as staffing, which is a ratio of students to staffing.[29] With the guaranteed tax base, funding is “determined by a formula that equalizes the taxes paid on the base amount of property within the district.”[30] In short, the state provides more funding to lower “property-wealthy” districts.[31]

Lastly, the hybrid model is a combination of all the above models but may also include additional factors depending on the state implementing this approach that may range differently.[32] For instance, state and local representatives may consider student-to-teacher ratios, the academic resources to comparatively compete with wealthier districts, or any supplemental funding needed for non-English speaking students or students with disabilities.[33] Essentially, the hybrid model permits local and state agencies to create a system that goes beyond the value of property taxes per neighborhood.[34]

According to ECS research, 33 states relied on a student-based foundation model, 10 used a resource-based allocation, 5 used a hybrid model, and 2 used a guaranteed tax base model.[35] Preparing a funding scheme is no easy feat when districts needs may vary greatly among each other.[36] The adequacy approach has shed light on education inequality from a socioeconomic perspective by illustrating how a fixed budget per-pupil may not be the solution if it fails to address underlying obstacles that limit students’ academic preparation.[37] By diversifying the adequacy approach to four general formulas, the U.S. recognized that the equity approach is not the proper pathway for equal access to education as mandated under Article 26 of the UDHR.[38] Nevertheless, the question of whether property and personal taxes should be considered when calculating school fundings still receives different responses between the courts and parents, as referenced in San Antonio.[39]


1. A Hybrid model is best to counteract local inequities: Ohio’s Hybrid Model (Est. 2021)

In 2021, Ohio implemented a hybrid model for school funding where both state and local governments provide the majority of funding, and the remainder is from the federal government.[40] Beforehand, Ohio relied on a student-based foundation approach.[41] The uniqueness of this system is that it no longer provides a fixed amount of funding to districts but relies on a “base cost” to subsequently determine a unique amount allocated to each district depending on its economic needs.[42] This model allows the state government to “counteract local inequities in wealth by sending more dollars to poorer districts.”[43] Ohio’s hybrid model allows it to fluctuate depending on the socioeconomic makeup of each district and the state and local revenue available.[44] Districts expect to receive an 11.9% funding boost by the year 2025.[45]

It is possible that the needs of Ohio’s hybrid model will clash with its contemporaneous goal of providing funding for private institutions.[46]  In July 2023, Ohio passed legislation enabling an $86 million budget for universal school vouchers, meaning that these vouchers can be used to pay private school tuition.[47] Hence, it allows low-income parents to choose public or private schools for their children.[48] Although Ohio public schools received a $1.54 billion increase in funding, the state will also be investing $2 billion in these school vouchers alone.[49] Policy makers are uncertain the financial impact this will have because they don’t know how many Ohioans will rely on these vouchers after its financial limitations have been loosened to cover more families.[50]

2. A Hybrid model serves a student’s needs beyond a fixed budget: Illinois’ Hybrid Model (Est. 2017)

Illinois’ hybrid model, known as the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act (“EBF”), was enacted in 2017.[51] The goal of the EBF is to send more resources to financially vulnerable students to foster a well-rounded learning environment for all students.[52] The formula works in three stages: Stage 1 determines the cost of educating all students for each district (“Adequacy Target”), then Stage 2 measures each district’s local resources for comparison to the Adequacy Target previously calculated.[53] Lastly, Stage 3 reflects the pending funding needed by each district to meet the student body’s needs, provided by additional state funds.[54]

Since 2017, this model has increased funding to public schools by $1.6 billion dollars provided to previously underfunded districts.[55] This model has managed to close the funding gaps between wealthier districts and increase the funding for districts that educate a majority of students of color and from low-income families.[56] However, policy analysts have criticized this model as dysfunctional because student achievement has “failed to grow at the rate the ‘evidence-based’ funding model promises.”[57] Additionally, the Illinois Governor’s has failed to increase the state’s minimum funding since it is not feasible to meet the needs’ of the schools with the current $350 million funding stipulated by law.[58]

Ohio and Illinois’ application of their respective hybrid models demonstrates that such a formula is the most effective method out of the four general formulas when achieving an adequate approach to school funding.[59] Ohio strives to provide unique amounts of funding depending on a district’s economic needs.[60] Likewise, the model from Illinois has made progress in closing the unequal funding gap between wealthy and poor districts.[61] The impacts that these models have provided to many communities in both states would have been limited, if not nonexistent, by recurring to the other general formulas.[62]

For instance, the resource-based approach would ensure that schools are only provided with the basic or minimum funding to function properly.[63] However, it would not seek to go beyond closing any economic gaps like Illinois’ Stage 3.[64] For example, because the resource-based approach relies mostly on assumptions about how much staff a given school needs and the corresponding salary that should be given to the school to fund them.[65] Attempting to implement Illinois’ changes via the resource-based approach would fail because such a formula would constrict a school’s decision-making based on salary deficiencies for teachers and supervisors.[66]

Implementing a hybrid model will not provide the end-all solution for the U.S. to properly abridge the unequal funding per district, as expected under the UDHR.[67] However, from the financial schemes available, the hybrid model is the most appealing solution for our present society. Monetary resources are finite, and there is a possibility that Ohio’s hybrid model may run into that obstacle in the future as it seeks to close the gap for poor communities via vouchers for both public and private schools.[68] The Governor of Illinois has already faced backlash for this same issue.[69] The hybrid models from Ohio and Illinois began their course in 2021 and 2017.[70] It is too early to determine the shortcomings via a scheme that allocates malleable amounts of funding to financially vulnerable school districts.[71] Such an uncertainty does not outweigh the benefits that a hybrid model yields in school funding and its appeal for it to be potentially applied in more states in the future.


The importance of education mustn’t be overlooked. High quality education provides children with tools to forge their success and to mold their goals. Property wealth should not be a contingent factor on how much a child has the right to learn in their studies. In the U.S., each state has the right to develop a funding strategy as they deem proper.[72] ECS’s research demonstrates that there is no fixed solution to address this inconsistent right to education in the country.[73] A frequent problem is the overwhelming reliance on state and local taxes, which is a risk because these sources are potentially unstable.[74] That is because such taxes originate from income and sales, and their stability is uncertain during financial crises like a recession.[75] Ohio’s hybrid model has proved to be a success so far.[76] A hybrid model foreshadows more promise than a per-pupil approach.[77] A model that can be sustained by malleable factors that fill in the gaps to ensure adequate education is a vision in the right direction.[78] However, the promise of adequate funding may be unfulfilled if the needs exceed the minimum funding a state must abide by a statute.[79] Adequacy over equalization seems to be the right direction, but this goal will be limited if economic disparity outweighs the funding needed to cover such a gap.[80] The U.S. can protect children’s right to education by increasing the number of states using a hybrid model to fund their K-12 education.

[1] What’s the Importance of Early Childhood Education? WALDEN UNIVERSITY, https://www.waldenu.edu/online-masters-programs/ms-in-early-childhood-studies/resource/what-is-the-importance-of-early-childhood-education#:~:text=In%20terms%20of%20human%20development,including%20cognitive%20and%20social%20development (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights#:~:text=Article%2026,Elementary%20education%20shall%20be%20compulsory (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[3] UNICEF history: Reimagining the future for every child since 1946, https://www.unicef.org/history#:~:text=The%20United%20Nations%20International%20Children’s,had%20played%20in%20the%20war (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[4] Education: Every child has the right to learn, UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/education (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[5] Education, Save the Children, (2023), https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/education#:~:text= Every%20child%20deserves%20the%20opportunity,major%20indicator%20of%20future%20success (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[6] Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), U.S. Department of Education, https://www.ed.gov/essa?src=policy (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[7] Elizabeth Donoghue, 4.5: Every Student Suceeds Acts (replacing NCLB), LibreTexts Social Sciences, https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Courses/Fresno_City_College/Education_30%3A_Introduction_to_Education_(Perez)/04%3A_Educational_Reform/4.05%3A__Every_Student_Succeeds_Act_(replacing_NCLB) (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[8] Id.

[9] Mark Walsh, After 50 Years, a U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Educational Equity is Still Debated, EducationWeek, Mar. 20, 2023, https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/after-50-years-a-u-s-supreme-court-decision-on-educational-equity-is-still-debated/2023/03 (last visited Nov. 10, 2023).

[10] San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 4, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1282 (1973).

[11] Id., at 1285-86.

[12] Id. at 1291.

[13] Chelsea Lauren Chicosky, Restructuring the Modern Education System in the United States: A Look at the Value of Compulsory Education Laws, 2015 BYU EDUC. & L.J. 1, at 1-2 (2015).

[14] Michael Heise, State Constitutions, School Finance Litigation, and the Third Wave: From Equity to Adequacy, 68 TEMPLE L. REV. 1151 (1995).

[15] Id. at 1153, 1162.

[16] Id. at 1163.

[17] Rose v. Council for Better Educ., 790 S.W.2d 186, 190, 214 (Ky. 1989).

[18] Heise, supra note 14 at 1166.

[19] HOW IS K-12 EDUCATION FUNDED?, Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Aug. 25, 2023, https://www.pgpf.org/budget-basics/how-is-k-12-education-funded (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Project: State and Local Backgrounders, URBAN INSTITUTE, https://www.urban.org/policy-centers/cross-center-initiatives/state-and-local-finance-initiative/state-and-local-backgrounders/state-and-local-revenues#state (last visited Nov. 8, 2023).

[23] Payroll Guides: Local Taxes, Symmetry Software, https://www.symmetry.com/local-taxes (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[24] Peter G. Peterson Foundation, supra note 19.

[25] Id.

[26] Education Commission of the States, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Education_Commission_of_the_States (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[27] Public School Funding Formulas in the States, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Public_school_funding_ formulas_in_the_states (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[28] K-12 and Special Education Funding: Primary Funding Model, EDUCATION COMMISION OF THE STATES, Oct. 2021, https://reports.ecs.org/comparisons/k-12-and-special-education-funding-01 (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Overview of School Funding, Ohio Department of Education, Oct. 18, 2023, https://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Finance-and-Funding/Overview-of-School-Funding (last visited Oct. 20, 2023).

[34] Id.

[35] Ballotpedia, supra note 27.

[36] Peter G. Peterson Foundation, supra note 19.

[37] Rose v. Council for Better Educ., supra note 17 at 190, 214.

[38] United Nations, supra note 2.

[39] San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, supra note 10 at 1285-1286.

[40] Aaron Churchill, Ohio’s new school funding formula: An introduction, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Jan. 26, 2023, https://fordhaminstitute.org/ohio/commentary/ohios-new-school-funding-formula-introduction#:~: text=Ohio%27s%20hybrid%20model%E2%80%94making%20school,federal%20and%20non%2Dtax%20sources (last visited Oct. 13, 2023).

[41] Ballotpedia, supra note 27.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Aaron Churchill, New Ohio School Budget Law Makes Historic Strides in K-12 Education, The74, Jul. 18, 2023, https://www.the74million.org/article/new-ohio-school-budget-law-makes-historic-strides-in-k-12-education/ (last visited Oct. 13, 2023).

[45] Id.

[46] Susan Kaeser, Don’t punish rural taxpayers by funding private schools they don’t have | Opinion, The Columbus Dispatch, June 5, 2023, https://www.dispatch.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2023/06/05/funding-ohios-public- schools-takes-priority-over-private-education/70279348007/ (last visited Oct. 20, 2023).

[47] Eileen McClory, Ohio budget expands vouchers, plans to spend $2B in next two years, Dayton Daily News, Jul. 3, 2023, https://www.daytondailynews.com/local/ohio-budget-expands-vouchers-plans-to-spend-2b-in-next-two- years/HOKDSO2ZMFASDA43H5MRDWGHNQ/ (last visited Oct. 20, 2023).

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Id.

[51] Finance, Budgets & Funding: Evidence-Based Funding, Illinois State Board of Education, https://www.isbe.net/Pages/EvidenceBasedFunding.aspx (last visited Oct 14, 2023).

[52] Id.

[53] Evidence-Based Funding Basics: A Practical Guide for District Administrators, Illinois State Board of Education, at 4, https://www.isbe.net/Documents/EBF-Basics.pdf (last visited Oct 14, 2023).

[54] Id.

[55] Samantha Smylie, Illinois school funding formula is closing funding gaps for students of color, says report, Chalkbeat Chicago, Mar. 9, 2023, https://chicago.chalkbeat.org/2023/3/9/23633048/illinois-finances-state-budget-funding-gaps-students (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[56] Id.

[57] Ted Dabrowski & John Klingner, ‘Evidence-Based’ Education Funding Doesn’t Work, Would Cost Illinois Taxpayers Billions, ILLINOIS POLICY, Mar. 28, 2017, https://www.illinoispolicy.org/evidence-based-education-funding-doesnt-work-would-cost-illinois-taxpayers-billions/ (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[58] Naoma Nagahawatte, Commentary: Illinois fails to provide schools with the full funding they’re owed, CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS, Mar. 27, 2023, https://www.chicagobusiness.com/crains-forum-secondary-education/illinois-fails-provide-schools-funding-theyre-owed-opinion (last visited Oct. 14, 2023).

[59] Ballotpedia, supra note 27.

[60] Ballotpedia, supra note 27.

[61] Samantha Smylie, supra note 55.

[62] Ballotpedia, supra note 27.


[64] Illinois State Board of Education, supra note 53.

[65] Chad Aldeman, State funding methods influence schools’ spending decisions, BROOKINGS, Aug. 2, 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/state-funding-methods-influence-schools-spending-decisions/ (last visited Nov. 7, 2023).

[66] Id.

[67] United Nations, supra note 2.

[68] McClory, supra note 47.

[69] Nagahawatte, supra note 58.

[70] Churchill, supra note 40, and Smylie, supra note 55.


[72] The Role of Government in Education, Protecting Our Students, https://www.protectingourstudents.org/the-role-of-government-in-education/#:~:text=The%20United%20States%20Constitution%20does,delegated%20to%20the%20federal%20government. (last visited Oct. 16, 2023).

[73] Ballotpedia, supra note 27.

[74] Magda Derisma, Opposing Views: The Divide in Public Education Funding – Property Tax Revenue, 34 CHILD. LEGAL Rts. J. 122 (2013).

[75] Id.

[76] Aaron Churchill, supra note 44.

[77] Heise, supra note 14 at 1162.

[78] Ohio Department of Education, supra note 33.

[79] Naoma Nagahawatte, supra note 58.

[80] Peter G. Peterson Foundation, supra note 19.