Grade 9-12

What is the Most Ethical Way to Fund Public Schools?

Time: 90 mins,
Updated: March 26 2024,
Author: Matt Pierson


Students will be able to:

  • Explain how public schools are funded in their state.
  • Identify three school funding formulas.
  • Analyze documents regarding school funding to decide which funding model will bring results that match their ethical and economic goals.


In this lesson from the Ethics, Economics, and Social Issues curriculum, students will be analyzing a variety of public-school funding formulas to answer the question, “What do you think is the most ethical way to fund public schools?”  The students analyze documents, create a school-funding graphic organizer, and write an email to their state representative with their plan to fund schools in the most ethical way based on their researched opinion.


Education is a service that is largely operated by governments instead of using a market system.  As a society we have decided that K-12 education is something that should be provided to every student regardless of income or status. Public education is a complex and burdensome undertaking in a nation like the United States because funding decisions are primarily made at state and local levels. Since funding is mostly left up to the states, there is a system of trade-offs and cost/benefit analysis to try and get the highest quality education at the best price and to use the tax dollars in the most efficient way possible.


As a country, many people believe we have an obligation to educate our citizens. In fact, every state constitution includes language mandating the creation of a public education system.  It is an issue for ethical consideration to figure out how to fund that promised education. How do you allocate the tax dollars given to education?  States are challenged to figure out a formula for educational funds that makes sure that all people, no matter their socio-economic status, can access quality education that is at least equitable to other students in their state. Ethics as it relates to school finance is, of course, about money. Plato held that justice in society was not just the interest of the strongest, or the most affluent, but that reason should prevail and that civic questions in society should be answered rationally, with a strong degree of disinterest. Jeremy Bentham argued for a utilitarian ethics that provided the greatest good for the greatest number in society. Therefore, it would seem that an ethical approach to school finance would involve some rational determination of what would produce the greatest good for the greatest number in a system of financing public schools.[1] School funding is a normative analysis: How should funding be allocated?


[1] Ward, James Gordon (2004) “Ethics and the Legitimation of the Pursuit of Equity in School Finance,” Saint Louis University Public Law Review: Vol. 23 : No. 2 , Article 4. Available at: