The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Making Money Matter: Financing America's Schools
merely by having less money spent on them, students in property-poor school districts were denied their constitutional rights. These decisions opened the door to future cases that moved away from an emphasis on wealth neutrality to allegations that the state was failing to afford districts sufficient resources to provide students with the basic, minimum, or adequate educational opportunity required by the state's education clause (Verstegen and Whitney, 1995; Enrich, 1995).
Renewed Legal Activism
Equity concerns and legal activism gained renewed prominence in 1989, when courts in Texas, Montana, and Kentucky declared their state systems of finance—and in the case of Kentucky, the entire state education system—to be inequitable and unconstitutional. In Texas, the court relied on a traditional finance equity rationale (Edgewood v. Kirby, 777 S.W.2d 391, Tex. 1989), embracing wealth-neutrality theory in the very state in which the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected it 16 years earlier. The plaintiffs' evidence focused on disparities in property wealth between the wealthiest and poorest communities in the state—reflecting a 700-to-1 ratio at the extreme—and the resulting disparities in per-pupil expenditures—ranging from $2,112 to $19,333 (Edgewood, 1989:392). Unlike Serrano, however, the new Texas decision relied not on the state constitution's equal protection requirements but rather on its education clause, which required that the state make "suitable" provision for an "efficient" system of free public schools allowing for a "general diffusion of knowledge."
The court deferred to the legislature to devise a constitutionally acceptable system. Solutions acceptable to the court were not easy to come by, however. Just as the New Jersey case returned to court several times during the 1970s, the Texas case appeared before the state supreme court repeatedly in the 1990s, with the court again and again having to judge the constitutionality of the legislature's revised school finance plans. Finally, in 1995, the court found that the legislature had devised a constitutionally "efficient" plan, and ended the long-standing litigation battle (Edgewood, 1995 WL 36074, 1995).
The legislative scheme that the court finally approved was quite innovative in its approach to achieving fiscal equity, combining a guaranteed base level of spending per pupil for each district in the state that taxes itself at a state determined minimum, a guaranteed yield system that provides each district with the opportunity to supplement the basic program at a level of its own choosing, and a controversial plan that involves a form of state recapture of part of the revenue generated by wealthy districts. The Texas legislation also included many nonfinance reforms. In this sense, Texas experience is similar to the earlier experiences in West Virginia and New Jersey, where school finance reform served as an opening wedge to other reforms focusing more directly on educational issues and not merely on questions about differences in interdistrict spending.
In Texas the inclusion of broader education reforms came about without court order; in Kentucky, by contrast, the overhaul of the state's entire educa-