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The Problems of Equity in Resource Allocation

Crisis shines an unflinching light on inequity.
(Gleason & Berg, 2020, p. 18)

Good resource management means that resources flow appropriately to address needs; equity is the guiding principle. As in many states, equitable resource allocation is a problem in Ohio (Carr, Gray, & Holley, 2007). The discussion below talks about the underlying difficulties; but approaches to addressing the problem also exist. The rapidly expanding use of remote learning options gives districts a chance to begin or expand the move toward equitable resource allocation.

Underlying Difficulties: Three Problems for Equitable Resource Allocation

Let's begin with three key problems undermining equitable resource allocation in school and society.

The first problem is that district leaders are sometimes unwilling to share the power of the purse with others. They may be reluctant even to share information about resource allocation. When this happens, official goals (e.g., improving outcomes for students from marginalized groups) can be at odds with actual patterns of resource allocation.

The second problem is that reallocation of resources threatens established identities, prerogatives, and relationships among stakeholders. If the stakeholders hold power and have influence, they might not appreciate the need for resource allocation even if they give lip-service to equity.

The third problem is that US society as a whole promotes inequity, and the situation has been getting worse in recent decades. Evidence points to the fact that (1) the middle class has become smaller; (2) the gap between rich and poor has become wider; (3) support for families (e.g., childcare) remains limited; (4) schools are not funded equitably and remain segregated; and (5) African American citizens are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white citizens.

The persistence of these problems means that educational systems have not fulfilled their promise of “leveling the playing field” for students from all backgrounds. In fact, many educational practices (including resource allocation) derive from, reflect, and continue to reinforce deep and prevailing inequities. In Ohio, for example, researchers have concluded that within-district allocation is “overwhelmingly inequitable” (Carr et al., 2007, p. 49).

Nonetheless, when Ohio schools closed for the COVID pandemic in Spring 2020, district leaders focused attention on the inequities according to a statewide survey about their concerns (BASA, 2020). They worried about (1) funding inequities and inadequacy, (2) learning gaps, and (3) a growing gap between haves and have-nots in their communities. The inequities were indeed revealed in the “unflinching light” of the pandemic.

The Case of Remote Learning

Because of the district leaders' focus on inequity, the critical need to provide remote learning offers educators an unusual chance to shift the resource allocation dynamic in their districts toward more equitable practices, perhaps for the long-term. After all, expanded provisions for remote learning may well prevail as an option in districts even after the pandemic is fully resolved.

The Table on this page suggests productive approaches that respond to the three problems that get in the way of equitable resource allocation. The related approaches are easily stated, but each involves substantial challenges. Engaging them now makes more sense than ever.

Equity for Remote Learning

Problem Approach
Limited Transparency Involve the community in both securing and allocating resources to support remote learning. Confront difficult decisions openly.
Vested Interests Join advocacy efforts that work to close the digital divide. Work toward securing reliable broadband service for all homes; provide laptops or tablets to all students. Equipment is more easily secured than internet service.
Persistent Inequity Expand equity work by applying what you learn from your efforts in fostering equity in remote learning. Established coalitions can help.

Getting resources to students with the greatest needs is the first step, but the resources must be used well to be effective. Throwing money or laptops at problems isn't the answer. Among the suggestions for effective remote learning are: (1) shifting toward authentic learning and assessments, (2) moving toward helpful formative assessments and away from punitive testing (Darling-Hammond, 2020), (3) building much stronger relationships with families, (4) expanding use of inquiry-based lessons and units; and (5) scaffolding students' engagement and self-directed learning (Gleason & Berg, 2020).

Equitable Resource Allocation is a Struggle

The three problems should suggest why equitable resource allocation is an ongoing struggle. Researchers have, in fact, estimated that per-pupil spending should be two to three times more for students with high needs as compared to average spending (Amerikaner, 2020). Meeting such a challenge can proceed only by steps. Shifting resources even to that high standard, however, could take place in a portion of the resource flow, such as for remote learning.

In this challenging situation, teams have to be clever about how to change local practice: how to build transparency, collaboration, and common purpose. It's good to know that, now more than ever, the pubic appreciates the importance of schools and sees more clearly the sharp needs of students from marginalized groups (e.g., students living in poverty, students of color).

It's telling that it was the status of schools that captured the attention of the public [during the COVID-19 pandemic] like no other recommendation. This speaks to the centrality of the K–12 school to family life and to the daily life of society at large in the United States. Schools hold a place like no other institution.
(Griffith, 2020, p. 90)


Amerikaner, A. (2020, January 29). States are burying damning data about school funding. New York Times.

Buckeye Association of School Administrators. (2020, July 21). District concerns for Ohio schooling in the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Authors.

Carr, M., Gray, N., & Holley, M. (2007). Shortchanging disadvantaged students: An analysis of intra-district spending patterns in Ohio (Policy Report No. 14). Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions.

Darling Hammond, L. (2020, May 19). A "New Deal" for education: Top 10 policy moves for states in the COVID 2.0 era. Learning Policy Institute.

Gleason, S. C., & Berg, J. H. (2020). Focus what now? An opportunity for equity. Learning Professional, 41(3), 17–21.

Griffith, D. (2020). There's no place like school. Educational Leadership, 77(8), 90-91.'s-No-Place-Like-School.aspx