Nevertheless, school finance litigation has flourished in state courts. In these cases, challengers have relied on equal protection clauses 1 and/or education clauses2 contained in state constitutions. By now, lawsuits challenging the legality of state systems of public school finance under state constitutions have been brought in at least 43 states. In 19 states, courts have declared school funding systems unconstitutional and have ordered reforms—with varying degrees of specificity and success. Court decisions in 24 states have rejected school finance claims. In 9 of those latter states, however, challengers subsequently sought relief under a different legal theory, and most of those cases are currently pending. If history is any guide, school finance litigation promises to remain active well into the next century, at least in those states with perceived educational "haves and have nots."
This chapter examines the origins, evolution, achievements, and future directions of school finance litigation. Despite dramatic state-to-state differences, the courts across the nation increasingly have become a voice in the school finance debate. As will be seen below, however, the final resolution of complex school finance issues in nearly all states continues to be determined largely through the legislative and executive processes.
During the late 1960s, several scholars and lawyer activists began examining America's system of school finance, in which, everywhere but in Hawaii (which has a single statewide system) and the District of Columbia, money raised by local school districts through local property taxes was the heart of the scheme. These newcomers to the world of school finance learned what experts in the field had long known—that, by giving local governments the primary power and responsibility to raise funds and set spending levels in public schools, states had created systems that substantially advantaged some children over others. Notwithstanding the publication of the Coleman Report (1966), which raised doubts about how much money really mattered in improving student outcomes, these scholars and activists found a great deal unfair about the funding of the nation's public schools.
These early reformers put forward new legal theories, which in turn had major implications for the role taken by judges and legislatures in changing the way public schools would be financed. In other words, although each claimed that the existing system violated the requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that states not deny individuals "equal protection of the law," they differed greatly as to what equal protection required.
Arthur Wise was one of the first to lay his ideas out in print (Wise, 1968). For Wise, the problem was that school spending varied dramatically from school district to school district within most states. Indeed, in many states high-spending