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
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.