Vertical Equity

Vertical equity recognizes that students and schools are different, and that treating unequals requires

appropriate unequal treatment.7 In other words, a regular education student and a special needs student are

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both expected to pass high-stakes tests under state and national accountability regimes. Since these students

have different learning needs, they should be treated appropriately, but differently.

Horizontal equity is relatively easy to quantify, but vertical equity choices are sometimes based on

personal or community values. Accordingly, “appropriate treatment” varies at the macro level, from one school

division to another, reflecting local priorities. What is deemed appropriate in one context should be consistent

across schools and districts, however. For example, at the micro level, two self-contained special education

classrooms of emotionally disturbed students should have the same relative level of resources allocated to

them. That is not to say that the two classrooms will be identical in funding or staffing, but funding differences should be

based on informed professional judgments of existing needs and available resources.

Allocating resources differently and appropriately depends on identifying legitimate factors based on the

characteristics of the students, the schools or school districts, and various programs. Student factors to

consider include the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, percentage of students

who are English language learners, percentage of students receiving special education services, or other valid

criteria. Most educators would agree that serving these students’ learning needs requires additional learning

resources and services.