The Kentucky decision is perhaps most important of the recent series of "adequacy" cases. As noted earlier, and as foreshadowed in the Washington and West Virginia cases, the meaning of "equity" in "adequacy" cases is very different—that all children should have equitable access to adequate educational opportunities.
In 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court found that the entire Kentucky system of education violated the mandates of the state constitution's education clause (see Minorini and Sugarman, Chapter 6 in this volume). The court ordered the state to overhaul the entire system of education to bring it into compliance (Rose v. Council for Better Educ., 790 S.W.2d 186, 1989). The court found that the education clause's "efficiency" language required that the state afford all students with equal access to adequate educational opportunities (Heise, 1995).
The Kentucky court provided broad guidelines to the legislature that included a list of seven items that characterized an adequate education (see Minorini and Sugarman, Chapter 6 in this volume). This approach deals with the same problems addressed by the legal-aid lawyers' needs-based theory. The court itself supplied the answer to the question of "needed for what educational result?" This list of seven items is not contained in the Kentucky constitution. It is a list that the court largely made up. But it is hardly an objectionable list, and it reflects the same pronouncements included in prominent national or international reports about what sort of education children "need" in our postindustrial contemporary society.
The hard part, of course, comes next. Do all children, or nearly all, actually have to reach those educational objectives? That appears not to be the case, and those who view the "adequacy" theory as insisting upon certain outcomes may have misinterpreted the idea. Rather, the courts and "adequacy" theorists seem to believe only that the educational finance system be structured and delivered so as to provide all children with a fair opportunity to achieve those outcomes (Clune, 1993; Underwood, 1995).
Even so, the task of restructuring the education finance system is tossed back to experts and the legislature. In other words, the policymakers and the educators should decide how much to spend and how to spend it, not the court itself. In a case like Kentucky the court seems to be saying that it is confident that the challenged scheme fails to provide all pupils with a fair opportunity to succeed. If nothing else, the system is manifestly not designed with that in mind. Instead, it is a hodge-podge of state mandates packaged together with a funding mechanism that encourages local autonomy.
One issue remains uncertain in this approach: What will constitute compliance? Once a system is found "inadequate," then until all (or nearly all) children in the state demonstrate high achievement, should the system remain under the court's supervision? We suspect, however, that there will be a different answer to