in the community to make a certain tax effort in support of education. As a result, these advocates appear to favor legal remedies that more reflect Wise's theory.

More recently, however, advocates have begun pursuing state law claims that differ from those advanced by either the Coons team or Wise. These cases are focused on ensuring that all students in a state have equitable access to adequate educational opportunities that are reasonably designed to allow them to achieve expected educational outcomes.14 Such cases rely primarily on a state constitution's education clause, with the plaintiffs' evidence typically focusing on the inadequacy of educational opportunities offered in one or more school districts in a state as demonstrated in part by the inability of students in that district to meet state or other contemporary education standards.

An "adequacy" claim does not complain about disparities in funding among school districts per se, but instead alleges that one or more districts lack the resources necessary to provide students with adequate educational opportunities. In effect, these advocates charge that schools are failing their clients, that more money is needed to serve them properly, and that the state constitution requires that increased spending. Because the legal remedies sought typically ask that the state provide complaining school districts with the resources necessary to afford students the opportunity to achieve desired educational outcomes, it matters not that such additional resources may result in those districts receiving higher levels of resources than other districts. Quite plainly, the new "adequacy" approach is an important revival, in state court, of the legal-aid lawyers' "needs-based" claims of the late 1960s.

As discussed below, several themes have emerged from cases both accepting and rejecting constitutional challenges to school funding schemes, and those themes highlight the strengths and limitations of the various legal theories. In the end, however, regardless of the litigation theory pursued, the fate of a plaintiffs' school funding challenge seems to be determined by whether a court takes a broad or narrow view of the rights bestowed by its state constitution.

Serrano and the 1970s

The decade of the 1970s was marked by the first successful state school finance equity lawsuits in California and New Jersey. The California case, Serrano v. Priest, perhaps the most famous school finance lawsuit, embraced the theory of the Coons team (indeed, Coons and Sugarman participated in the oral argument of the case before the California Supreme Court).15 The New Jersey case, which originally resembled an equity case based on the Coons team's theory, has been reshaped in several directions over the years of its seemingly unending litigation (more on this below). West Virginia and Washington decisions from the 1970s are also significant because they moved in the direction of opportunity and outcomes-based standards of equity that laid the foundation for the current adequacy movement.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement