Adequacy by any other name: A comparative look at educational spending in the United States and the republic of Korea

Nicola A. Alexander, Hyunjun Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scholars and policymakers want to know how much investment is sufficient to attain high-performing schools. Examining education spending in a highly regarded education system can yield insights for the United States. This paper explores conceptualizations and applications of adequacy in the United States and the Republic of Korea. Our exploratory study rests on the premise that adequacy, and the level of investment it implies, is a localized concept. This discussion highlights the fact that context matters because any query on whether a system has sufficient spending begs the question, “Sufficient for what?” In the Republic of Korea, policymakers consider the question in the context of adequate delivery of its national curriculum. In the United States, that question is answered in the context of adequate student achievement. It is important to acknowledge these different perspectives because Korean and U.S. policymakers thus face different negotiables on the appropriate way to spend public educational dollars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-83
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Education Finance
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding SEC. Funds used to support the general operational costs of a school are provided through unrestricted funds, and a school has broad flexibility in how it uses these funds. While the Korean government does not fully fund its estimated costs of delivering the national curriculum thorough unrestricted dollars, it can provide additional targeted dollars to schools to support a variety of programs. These include support for students with disabilities, low-income students, as well as students participating in national art competitions, gifted and talented programs, and extra-curricular activities. This additional funding is influenced by regime priorities and are often targeted at specific schools and special programs, including gifted education, advanced science programs, instructional technology, English-language programs, and extra-curricular activities. These restricted dollars typically account for between 20 and 25% of total public expenditures on education, but this funding is often not recurring and does not provide a stable source of revenue for Korean school leaders. This inconsistency makes it difficult for these school leaders to anticipate the amount of revenues their school will receive, making mid-or long-term planning difficult. For the average elementary school, only 51% of the general operational costs associated with the SEC are funded with general expenditures (KEDI 2016). Moreover, the average general high school operational costs are 38.3% of the SEC calculated costs. On average, Korean schools expended only 46.4% of what KEDI scholars calculate it would actually cost to deliver the national standard curriculum. Most schools do not get additional governmental funding from non-general funds. Consequently, parents have had to pay school fees to offset operational costs. Currently, since 2004, there have been no entrance or tuition fees charged to elementary and middle school students, but entrance and tuition fees remain for high school students. President Moon Jae-in, newly elected in May 2017, has promised to implement compulsory and free education through high school by 2022. Presently, schooling is compulsory only for elementary and middle school students.

Publisher Copyright:
© University of Illinois Press, 2017. All rights reserved.


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