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Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives (1999)

Chapter: 2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future

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Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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2
School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future

Paul A. Minorini and Stephen D. Sugarman

Introduction

Since the 1960s in America, individuals and groups seeking an increased level or share of valued public benefits have often turned to courts for assistance, hoping thereby to achieve their goals outside the traditional political process. Courts have been especially receptive to these pleas when they are made by the politically powerless and deal with matters of fundamental importance.

As this new judicial activism started taking hold, lawyers and scholarly advocates turned their attention to the financing of our public schools. They focused on the way in which most states have historically relied on local property taxes as a substantial source of funding public education (Enrich, 1995). Those early advocates (and many subsequent legal scholars) viewed equity as an essential component of the principle of basic fairness. Yet, traditional school finance arrangements, they argued, created grave inequities for children in the availability of educational resources and opportunities. In light of the enormous importance of education, it is not surprising, therefore, that those inequities have been the subject of intense litigation.

What is surprising, however, is the predominantly state law and state court character of this litigation. Federal courts and federal law have played the central role in lawsuits concerning other aspects of public education such as school desegregation, student rights to free expression, and the needs of the disabled and pupils with limited English proficiency. But the federal constitutional challenges to school finance inequalities that were brought in the late 1960s and early 1970s were ultimately unsuccessful.

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

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.

Early Thinking: Wealth-Based Discrimination And The Federal Constitution

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

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

districts were able to lavish two, three, and in some cases even four or more times as much per pupil on their students than what low-spending districts were able to spend on their students.

The legal challenge he developed drew upon two important judicial developments in the 1960s—the school desegregation cases and the reapportionment cases. Based on the school desegregation cases, Wise argued that public education was a ''fundamental interest" for equal protection purposes and thus could not be distributed unequally within any state absent a "compelling state interest" for doing so (and, he argued, there was no such compelling interest).3 Drawing on the "one man-one vote" principle of the reapportionment cases,4 Wise advanced a similar standard for public school finance: one scholar-one dollar. In short, under Wise's theory, the federal equal protection clause required an end to unequal spending from district to district. This push for dollar equity is what some scholars have referred to as horizontal equity (see Berne and Stiefel, Chapter 1 in this volume).

Looking at the same spending patterns, UCLA law professor Harold Horowitz turned to a different area of the law from which he developed the principle of geographic uniformity (Horowitz, 1966; Horowitz and Neitring, 1968). He argued that, like a state's law governing murder, school spending could not vary within a state based on geography alone. To many, the implication of this argument appeared to be the same as would follow from Wise's principle—uniform per-pupil spending statewide. But this was not necessarily so. Under Horowitz's theory, a legislature might decide, for example, to spend more money on disabled or at-risk children. If it turned out that more of those children resided in some school districts than in others, then more per pupil on average would be spent there. Such district-to-district differences would be acceptable under Horowitz's principle because those differences would be based on student need and not geography. By contrast, it was not entirely clear just how Wise's "one dollar-one scholar" principle might, if at all, accommodate differential spending based on different pupil needs.

Some legal-aid lawyers who tackled the issue found both the Wise and Horowitz principles ill-suited to their purposes. They developed an alternative theory that focused primarily on unequal student need and the resulting imperative, as they saw it, to spend more than average on the schooling of low-achieving children from low-income families, many of whom lived in urban areas. Wise's equal spending rule would clearly not suffice. Horowitz's geographic uniformity theory only permitted, but did not mandate, what these advocates sought to have the courts require.

The basic thrust of the legal-aid lawyers' "needs-based" constitutional claim was that rich and poor children had a right to have their educational needs "equally" met. This principle, which some scholars have termed vertical equity, required unequal spending (see Berne and Stiefel, Chapter 1 in this volume). The legal-aid lawyers and their clients got to court first.

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

A central difficulty with the needs-based claim existed, however. How much spending does any child, or class of children, "need"? If "need" implies a level of school spending necessary to achieve some sort of educational "outcome" standard, then exactly what outcome? And if ''need" is not about outcomes, what does it involve that a court could address? Would a court order whatever spending education experts thought is "needed"? But which experts? And "needed" for what? In other words, the problem lay in identifying an acceptable constitutional principle for courts to announce that contained the certainty and clarity that seemed necessary (at least at the time) before the claimants had any hopes of winning an equal protection case.

Federal courts were indeed troubled by just such questions when faced with early needs-based claims, and these suits were promptly dismissed. 5 McInnis v. Shapiro, a 1968 Illinois case, was first. The federal district court panel rejected the claimants' theory precisely on the ground that it could not discern judicially manageable standards to gauge what students' needs were and whether they were being met. A similar conclusion was soon reached by a federal district court panel in Virginia in Burrus v. Wilkerson (1969). The Burrus court concluded that "courts have neither the knowledge, nor the means, nor the power to tailor the public moneys to fit the varying needs of these students throughout the State" (Burrus, 1969:574). Both McInnis and Burrus were appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where they were affirmed without comment. Advocates would have to wait several years for the nation's highest court to opine on the merits of school finance challenges.

In addition to the Wise, Horowitz, and needs-based approaches, a fourth legal strategy for attacking school finance inequities emerged in the late 1960s (Coons et al., 1969, 1970). Working at Northwestern University Law School, Professor John Coons and two students, William Clune and Stephen Sugarman, developed a theory that combined a concern about poverty with the idea that education was a constitutionally fundamental interest. In this respect, their legal strategy was not unlike that of the legal-aid lawyers. But the Coons team cast the shortcoming of America's school finance systems in a different way. To them, the constitutional evil was that the "poor" school districts had little property wealth to tax in order to support their local schools, whereas "rich" districts had lots of it. Although states offset some of the rich districts' wealth advantage through a variety of state aid formulas designed to assure all pupils some minimum level of spending, enormous wealth advantages remained. Furthermore, the poor districts tended to impose on themselves higher tax rates per dollar of assessed value of property than did their wealthy counterparts. Yet despite the greater "effort" made through higher tax rates (and notwithstanding the state aid they received), property-poor districts had less money per pupil to spend.

This wealth discrimination, argued the Coons team, was unconstitutional. They dubbed their core legal principle "Proposition I (later referred to as the theory of "fiscal neutrality"): the quality of public education, measured most

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

commonly by looking at dollar inputs, may not be a function of wealth other than the wealth of the state as a whole.

Since Proposition I attacked the formal structure of school finance systems, it would be relatively easy for the courts to apply, unlike the needs-based theory of the legal-aid advocates. Moreover, so long as the amount of resources available to a pupil was not determined by the amount of the district's local wealth, it left room for the state to choose among several finance options. Under Proposition I, states could adopt Wise's one dollar-one scholar idea. States also could elect to spend more on educationally needier poor children than on children from other families—the goal of the legal-aid lawyers. Moreover, in contrast to Horowitz's theory, Proposition I allowed geographic-based differences in spending. For example, if two districts were equally wealthy, it would not be unconstitutional for one to choose to spend more than the other by taxing itself more. Put differently, the Coons team sought to end the long-existing politics of school finance, in which the poor districts were pitted against the rich ones, and to replace it with a politics that concerned itself more with educational objectives.

To demonstrate how a new school finance scheme could meet their principle of fiscal neutrality and yet tolerate geographically different spending levels, Coons and his colleagues developed a mechanism that they called "district power equalizing." That system sought, through the use of a state aid formula, to make every district effectively equally wealthy. Once that was assured, the state might permit districts to tax as high or low as they wished; the resulting geographic inequalities would be allowed under Proposition I because they would reflect differences in tax effort, not wealth. Coons and his colleagues emphasized this remedy because they recognized the traditional importance of local control over education and anticipated the reluctance of the federal judiciary to override that control.

Significantly, under the Coons team's theory, the objectionable discrimination on the basis of poverty was based on school district poverty, rather than personal poverty, and was measured by the assessed value of property per pupil that a district could tax. Low property wealth per pupil might have been a good proxy for concentrations of family poverty in some districts, and indeed the low-wealth districts tended to be home to lower-income families. But this certainly was not the case in every district. In fact, many large cities were relatively "wealthy," often containing some well-to-do families and valuable commercial property. As a result, despite having many poor residents, large cities often spent more on their students than the statewide average per pupil, although usually considerably less than was spent in nearby wealthy suburbs. This made the Coons team's theory unattractive to some legal-aid advocates for poor children living in large urban centers, whose goal was to achieve "equity" in opportunity for the pupils they represented even if that meant more unequal state spending.

But unlike the claims of the lawyers who brought the earlier needs-based cases, the Coons team's legal theory was soon embraced in two important cases:

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

by the California Supreme Court in Serrano v. Priest (more on that in the following section) and by a lower Texas federal court panel in Rodriguez v. San Antonio Independent School District.6 As a result, it appeared for a short time that the federal Constitution—and the Coons team's Proposition I—would indeed play a central role in shaping America's school finance system.

The lower court ruling in Rodriguez was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1973, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Court rejected the Coons team's theory. This decision dashed the advocates' hopes for a federal remedy to school finance inequities (Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 1973).

The plaintiffs in Rodriguez consisted of a class of children throughout the state of Texas living in districts with low per-pupil property valuations. In line with the Coons team's theory, they claimed that the Texas school finance system's reliance on local property taxation unfairly favored more affluent districts, creating substantial inter-district disparities that violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs asserted—and the lower court agreed—that, as a matter of federal constitutional law, education was a "fundamental interest" and wealth was a "suspect classification," thus requiring the application of "strict judicial scrutiny" to the state's wealth-based school finance scheme. With no "compelling interest'' in discriminating against low-wealth districts, the Texas plan (and by implication the school finance plans of virtually every state) would have to change.

The Supreme Court majority found several things wanting in the plaintiffs' case. First, the Court rejected the plaintiffs' invitation to treat wealth generally as a "suspect classification" (as it had treated race, for example), thereby triggering the need to justify unequal treatment with a compelling reason.7 Moreover, the Court distinguished within a group of prior decisions upon which the Coons team relied. The two most important cases involved states denying people access to divorce and to an appeal of a criminal conviction. But the Court emphasized that in those other cases a class of indigent persons were completely precluded from enjoying the desired benefit (Rodriguez , 1973:20).

By contrast, the plaintiffs in Rodriguez could not demonstrate to the Court's satisfaction that the Texas school finance system disadvantaged any class of persons fairly definable as indigent or with incomes below any designated poverty line. On the contrary, the primary basis for the plaintiffs' claims was discrimination based on district, not personal wealth. And, as the Court observed, there was no necessary correlation between the two.

Unlike the prior cases, Rodriguez did not involve an absolute deprivation of any benefits since all of the plaintiff children were receiving a free public education and their districts were assured at least some minimal level of funding.

The Court also decided that it would not treat education, as it had treated the right to travel for example,8 as a "fundamental interest" any infringement of which was subject to strict judicial scrutiny. The Court acknowledged the "grave significance of education both to the individual and to society" but nevertheless

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

concluded that the importance of a government service to society does not determine that the service is fundamental for purposes of an equal protection analysis (Rodriguez, 1973:30). For the Court, a right was fundamental only if either explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, and neither was the case with respect to education. Nearly a decade later, in Plyler v. Doe (487 U.S. 202, 1982), the Court arguably came out the other way on the question of whether education is a constitutionally fundamental interest, but that case, unlike Rodriguez, involved an absolute denial—illegal immigrant children were barred from school entirely.

Recognizing that the Court might take a narrow view of education as a constitutionally fundamental right, the Coons team, as friend of the court, argued more broadly that education was fundamental because it enabled people to exercise effectively their right to vote and their First Amendment right to free speech. The Court, however, sidestepped that First Amendment argument. Again, because Texas guaranteed pupils at least a minimum level of spending, the Court expressed doubts that the differential spending levels alleged by the plaintiffs interfered with First Amendment rights, both as a constitutional matter and empirically (Rodriguez, 1973:36, 42).

Having rejected the application of the strict scrutiny test, the Court's majority next asked whether Texas had a "rational basis" for its finance scheme. The tradition of local control over education easily provided such a basis.

Three justices dissented in Rodriguez, broadly endorsing the Coons team's legal theory. A fourth, Justice White, dissented on narrower grounds, concluding that the Texas school finance system effectively denied local control to poor districts and thus was irrational. As he saw it, property-poor school districts did not have control over their inability to raise revenues for education, and in fact were often forced to tax their meager resources at rates much higher than the wealthier districts.

The Rodriguez majority's reluctance to involve the federal courts in state school finance issues was driven by important concerns about federalism. As the Court observed, "it would be difficult to imagine a case having a greater potential impact on our federal system than the one now before us, in which we are urged to abrogate systems of financing public education presently in existence in virtually every state" (Rodriguez, 1973:44). The Court expressed further concern about the delicacies of the state/federal relationship, noting that "the judiciary is well advised to refrain from imposing on the states inflexible constitutional restraints that could circumscribe or handicap the continued research and experimentation so vital to finding even the partial solutions to educational problems and keeping abreast of ever changing conditions" (Rodriguez, 1973:43).

These early school finance cases, as well as most subsequent ones, were in no respect cast as matters of racial discrimination. The decision to leave race out was partly based on the fact that, with the end of the system of separate black and white schools in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, no formal structural

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

discrimination existed against blacks in the funding of public schools. It also was partly a matter of uncertainty as to whether blacks as a class would be helped by successful school finance litigation. Advocates believed that black children living in low-spending districts would benefit, but many African-Americans were increasingly living in cities where the school finance problems were more complex than simply having a low property tax base and, as a result, spending less per pupil than elsewhere in the state.

Rodriguez abruptly cut off efforts to reform unequal state school finance systems through federal litigation based on the United States Constitution,9 but it certainly did not end the school finance litigation reform effort.

Turning To State Constitutions

Overview

With the door to federal courts closed by Rodriguez, and faced with the persistence of large disparities in the availability of educational resources and opportunities, advocates turned to state courts for relief. State court litigation has continued since the early 1970s and has reflected the variety of legal theories initially advanced by reformers in the late 1960s (see Table 2-1 through 2-6). In 19 states, as noted above, state school funding systems—and in some cases the entire education system—have been declared unconstitutional. While results in the state cases have been mixed (24 cases rejected the plaintiffs' claims, with 9 of

TABLE 2-1 Overview of Litigation Involving State Education Finance Systems

Plaintiffs won at state supreme court levela

19

Plaintiffs lost at supreme court level; no further complaints filed or further complaints also lostb

12

Plaintiffs lost in prior action; further complaints have been filed

9

Litigation is present; no supreme court decision has been rendered

3

No litigation is present or case is dormant

7

a Some of these decisions stopped short of declaring entire finance systems unconstitutional, but instead established certain entitlements to educational services for all students or declared parts of systems unconstitutional.

b Not all of these decisions ruled that the state finance systems were constitutional. Some rejected plaintiffs challenges on the ground that the asserted claims were not supported under state law.

SOURCE: Authors' calculations.

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

TABLE 2-2 Plaintiffs Won at State Supreme Court Level (19)a

State

Decision

Year(s)

Notes

Alabama

Harper v. Hunt

1993, 1997

1993 trial court ruled system unconstitutional—not appealed and therefore final; 1997 high court ruling gave legislature one year to develop remedy

Arizona

Roosevelt Elem. Sch.

1994, 1997

 

 

Dist. 66 v. Bishop

 

 

Arkansas

Dupree v. Alma Sch. Dist.

1983

1983 lower court ruled system unconstitutional—not appealed

 

Lake View v. Arkansas

Field 1994

 

California

Serrano v. Priest

1971, 1977

 

Connecticut

Horton v. Meskill

1977

 

 

Sheff v. O'Neill

1996

 

Kentucky

Rose v. The Council

1989

 

Massachusetts

McDuffy v. Secretary of Educ.

1993

 

Missouri

The Committee v. Missouri and Lee's Summit P.S.U. v. Missouri

1996

High court upheld legislation passed in response to a 1993 lower court decision declaring finance system unconstitutional

Montana

Helena Sch. Dist. v. Montana

1989

 

 

Montana Rural Educ. Assoc. v. Montana

Filed 1993

 

New Hampshire

Claremont v. Gregg

1997

High court found that education clause requires funding for adequate education

New Jersey

Robinson v. Cahill

1973, 1976

 

 

Abbott v. Burke

1990, 1994, 1997, 1998

 

North Carolina

Leandro v. North Carolina

1997

Supreme Court overturned dismissal and remanded for trial on merits

Ohio

DeRolph v. Ohio

1997

 

Tennessee

Tennessee Small Sch. Systems v. McWherter

1993, 1995

 

Texas

Edgewood v. Kirby

1989, 1991, 1992, 1995

 

Vermont

Lamoille Co. v. Vermont

1997

 

 

Brigham v. Vermont

1997

 

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

State

Decision

Year(s)

Notes

Washington

Seattle v. Washington

1978

 

 

Tronson v. Washington

1991

 

West Virginia

Pauley v. Kelly

1979, 1984

 

 

Pauley v. Bailey

Filed 1994

 

Wyoming

Washakie v. Herschler

1980

 

 

Campbell v. Wyoming

1995

 

a Some of these decisions stopped short of declaring entire finance systems unconstitutional, but instead established certain entitlements to educational services for all students or declared parts of systems unconstitutional.

SOURCE: Modified from Hickrod et al. (1997).

those states embroiled in new legal actions), the litigation certainly has been a force in shaping school finance debates nationwide. (One has to be cautious when using any "scorecard" of these cases. In some states, litigation never reached the state's highest court. In other states, such as Missouri and Oklahoma, the mere threat of filing a lawsuit has been enough to bring about some school finance reform. A court decision subsequently upholding the reformed system would mean something very different from a defense victory in other states.)

Many of the state court decisions striking down their state's school finance scheme rely on the state constitution's equal protection clause.10 Early on, it became clear that, despite similar wording, a state court might interpret its own state constitution's equal protection clause differently than the federal Constitution's. For one thing, the state court might declare education to be a fundamental interest and/or school district wealth a suspect classification for purposes of state constitutional law, even if these propositions do not apply in federal constitutional litigation.11 In that event, the state court would likely follow the reasoning expressed by the group of three dissenters in Rodriguez. Alternatively, a state court could follow the lead of Justice White and find its state school finance system irrational.12

Many other state courts have relied in whole or in part on state constitutional provisions specific to education in deciding school finance cases. Some of those decisions use the state constitution's education clause to buttress the equal protection analysis, relying in part on the presence and content of the education clause to support treating education as a fundamental right (Enrich, 1995). Others, however, interpret the education clause independently—as itself requiring some degree of equity in educational funding or opportunity (Underwood, 1995; Enrich, 1995).

In reviewing state school finance cases, both the particular state constitutions

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

TABLE 2-3 Plaintiffs Lost at Supreme Court Level; No Further Complaints Filed or Further Complaints Also Lost (12)a

State

Decision

Year(s)

Notes

Alaska

Matanuska-Susitna

 

 

 

Borough v. Alaska

1997

 

Florida

Coalition v. Childs

1996

High court ruled that no cause of action presented

Georgia

McDaniels v. Thomas

1981

 

Idaho

Thompson v. Engelking

1975

 

 

Idaho Schools for Equal Educ. Oppty

1993

 

Kansas

Unified Sch. Dist. 229, et al. v. Kansas

1992

 

 

Unified Sch. Dist. 244, Coffey Co., et al. v. Kansas

1994

 

 

Unified Sch. Dist. 217, Rolla, et al. v. Kansas

1994

 

Maine

M.S.A.D. #1 v. Leo Martin

1995

 

Michigan

East Jackson Public Sch. v. Michigan

1984

 

Nebraska

Gould v. Orr

1993

High court ruled that no cause of action presented

North Dakota

Bismarck Public Schools v. North Dakota

1994

Majority (3) ruled in favor of plaintiff, but North Dakota requires four justices to declare a statutory law unconstitutional

Oklahoma

Fair School v. Oklahoma

1987

 

Rhode Island

City of Pawtucket v. Sundlun

1995

 

Virginia

Scott v. Virginia

1994

 

a Not all of these decisions ruled that the state finance systems were constitutional. Some rejected plaintiffs challenges on the ground that the asserted claims were not supported under state law.

SOURCE: Modified from Hickrod et al. (1997).

on which the courts rely and the tradition of judicial review in the particular state should be considered. Many state constitution education clauses provide that the state shall provide for a "thorough and efficient" system of public schools, others merely require "efficient," still others call for "ample," and so on. Moreover, beyond its words, each state constitution has its own political history and its own prior history of judicial interpretation.13 Hence, while some scholars (McUsic, 1991; Thro, 1993) have attempted to categorize state education clauses based

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

TABLE 2-4 Plaintiffs Lost in Prior Action; Further Complaints Have Been Filed (9)

State

Decision

Year(s)

Notes

Colorado

Lujan v. State Bd. of Educ.,

1982

 

 

New case filed

1998

 

Illinois

Committee v. Edgar

1996

 

 

New case filed

1997

 

Maryland

Hornbeck v. Somerset Co

1983

 

 

Bradford v. Maryland St. Bd. of Educ.

Filed 1994

 

Minnesota

Skeen v. Minnesota

1993

Win for plaintiffs at district court on motion to dismiss

 

NAACP v. Minnesota

Filed 1996

 

 

St. Paul Sch. Dist. v. Minnesota

Filed 1996

 

New York

Board of Educ. v. Nyquist

1982, 1987

1993, 1995 win for plaintiffs at high court on motion to dismiss; remanded for trial on merits

 

Reform Educational Financing Inequities Today (R.E.F.I.T.) v. Cuomo

1991, 1995

 

 

Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. New York State

1993, 1995

 

Oregon

Olsen v. Oregon

1976

 

 

Coalition for Ed. Equity v. Oregon

1991

 

 

Withers v. Oregon

1997

 

Pennsylvania

Danson v. Casey

1979, 1987

 

 

Pennsylvania Assoc. of Rural and Sm. Sch. v. Casey

Filed 1991

 

South Carolina

Richland v. Campbell

1988

1993 lower court dismissed case in 1996, appeal pending

 

Lee Co. v. South Carolina

Filed 1993

 

Wisconsin

Kukor v. Grover

1989

 

 

Vincent v. Voight

Filed 1995

 

 

SOURCE: Modified from Hickrod et al. (1997).

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
×

TABLE 2-5 Litigation Is Present; No Supreme court Decision Has Been Rendered (3)

State

Decision

Year

Notes

Louisiana

Charlet v. Legislature of State of Louisiana

1992

Intermediate appellate court dismissed suit 3/97

New Mexico

Alamagordo v. Morgan

1995

 

South Dakota

Bezdichek v. South Dakota

1991

Win for defendants at trial court on merits

 

SOURCE: Modified from Hickrod et al. (1997).

upon their wording so as to be able to predict results in school finance cases, there appears to be little correlation between the language per se and the likelihood of success in a given suit (Underwood, 1995).

Plaintiffs in a traditional state constitutional school finance equity case—whether grounded in the equal protection clause, the education clause, or both—typically allege that a state's method for funding public schools is inequitable because the amount of resources available to local school districts is a function of the property wealth located in that district. This reflects the predominance gained by the Coons team's theory described above. Plaintiffs focus their evidence in such cases on disparities in the tax bases and financial resources available to schools in high-property-wealth and low-property-wealth school districts and the resulting disparities in educational opportunities available to students.

Some other state court advocates have sought primarily to eliminate the spending gap between high-wealth and low-wealth school districts. For example, they oppose the district power equalizing scheme developed by the Coons team arguing that a child's education should not depend upon the willingness of voters

TABLE 2-6 No Litigation Is Present or Case Is Dormant (7)

State

Decision

Year

Notes

Delaware

 

 

 

Hawaii

 

 

 

Indiana

Lake Central v. Indiana

1987

Case withdrawn

Iowa

 

 

 

Mississippi

 

 

 

Nevada

 

 

 

Utah

 

 

 

 

SOURCE: Modified from Hickrod et al. (1997).

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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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.

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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During this same decade, courts in several other states rejected plaintiffs' claims, referring the reformers to the legislative process to cure the school finance system's alleged ills.16 Like the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez, these decisions reflected the reluctance of some courts to get involved in difficult and complex social policy issues relating to public school finance.

California

The first successful state court case, Serrano v. Priest, 487 P.2d 1241 (1971) (Serrano I), was filed in California by a class of Los Angeles County public schoolchildren and their parents. The plaintiffs alleged that the California school funding system was unconstitutional because it created wide disparities in the quality and availability of resources and educational opportunities across the state. Plaintiffs' evidence demonstrated that in the 1969-70 school year, elementary school districts' expenditures ranged from $407 to $2,586, while high school districts' expenditures ranged from $722 to $1,761 (Franklin, 1987). Such disparities, plaintiffs alleged, were the consequence of the finance system's heavy reliance on local property taxes as a primary source of funding for public schools. The plaintiffs claimed that the finance system violated the equal protection clauses of both the United States Constitution and the California constitution.

The California Supreme Court embraced the Coons team's Proposition I, holding that the state's school "funding scheme invidiously discriminated against the poor because it made the quality of a child's education a function of the wealth of his parents and neighbors" (Serrano I, 1971:1244). The court recognized that the right to an education was a fundamental interest that could not be conditioned on wealth, and could identify no compelling state purpose that necessitated the present method of financing.

The court squarely rejected the defendants' assertion that a compelling interest promoted local control over the financing and operation of schools. According to the court, local control was a "cruel illusion" for property-poor districts, where, because of the lack of taxable wealth, residents effectively had no control over how much to spend on their schools (Serrano I, 1971:1261).

It appeared initially that the Serrano I decision relied primarily on the United States Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment in reaching its holding, as the lawyers had urged. But a few additional words were put in the opinion noting that the California constitution's equal protection clause also was applicable (Serrano I, 1971:1249, note 11). Later, in its 1976 decision evaluating the sufficiency of the legislature's response to Serrano I, the California Supreme Court explicitly held that the federal equal protection analysis it had advanced in Serrano I was equally applicable to the California constitution's equal protection clause (Serrano II, 1976:951). The United States Supreme Court, of course, had decided Rodriguez during the time between the first and second Serrano decisions. But by redirecting the focus of the California court's analysis and embracing a

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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wider and independent view of the California constitution, the California Supreme Court was able to hold firm to its prior decision.

In Serrano II (557 P.2d 929, 1976), the court held that the school finance legislation passed in response to Serrano I was insufficient. The court noted that even under the new plan, ''local wealth is the principal determinant of revenue" (Serrano II, 1976:938-39). Serrano II went on to offer the state a host of alternative school funding schemes that would avoid the pitfalls of the then current system including the Coons team's district power equalizing plan. The Serrano II decision indicated what would suffice to meet the constitutional requirement by affirming the trial court's order requiring that, by September 1980, the legislature implement a school funding formula that reduced wealth-related disparities in per-pupil expenditures, exclusive of categorical aids and special needs programs, to less than $100 (Serrano II, 1976:940, note 21).

Shortly after Serrano II, the legislature enacted a comprehensive school finance package that essentially adopted the Coons team's district power equalization plan. Under that plan, a school district, no matter how poor, was guaranteed a certain amount of revenue if it taxed itself at a specified rate.

Before the legislative scheme went into effect, however, the voters of California passed Proposition 13, which limited property tax rates to 1 percent of the cash value of real property subject to taxation. Proposition 13 also required a two-thirds vote of the legislature to increase state taxes and absolutely prohibited the imposition of a statewide property tax. The passage of Proposition 13 required a totally new method of school funding skewed toward state funding. In other words, Proposition 13 essentially nullified the district power-equalizing plan adopted by the legislature.

In its place, the legislature passed a school funding formula that relied more upon state revenue sources. This plan tried to achieve the equalization required by Serrano II by allowing for minimal increases in high-spending districts, while providing low-revenue districts with larger increases. Indeed, the revised system narrowed the gap in the amount of money per pupil available to school systems around the state to a level that the California Court in Serrano III found to be constitutionally acceptable. Over time, however, the impact of Proposition 13 has been to slow considerably the overall growth in spending on public schools in California, with the result that California, which used to be one of the highest spenders on elementary and secondary education, is now well below the national average.

The California saga is sometimes pointed to as an example of how states will be forced to level spending down in higher-wealth districts in response to school finance equity suits. However, that criticism is oversimplistic and overstated. The California experience with school finance reform and property tax relief seems to have been a unique episode because of Proposition 13. It is unclear whether the Serrano I and II decisions substantially influenced the passage of Proposition 13. Similarly, it is unclear to what extent the Serrano decisions

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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contributed to California's relative decline in statewide spending, as compared to national averages.

New Jersey

The concepts of equity and fiscal neutrality embraced in Serrano I spread beyond California to both Texas and Minnesota where lower federal courts adopted Serrano's federal constitutional analysis.17 This momentum, of course, was halted by Rodriguez. But the state constitutional branch of Serrano also proved fertile. Perhaps most importantly, the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1973 found that the state's school funding system—which, like California, resulted in property-poor districts spending half as much per pupil as wealth districts—violated the New Jersey constitution.

Unlike Serrano, the New Jersey court based its decision exclusively on the state's education clause whose wording guaranteed to all students a "thorough and efficient system" of public education (Robinson v. Cahill, 303 A.2d 273, 1973, Robinson I). Although the central concept underlying equal protection of the law is a clear notion of equal treatment, state constitution education clauses are more amorphous and open-ended. Exactly what, for example, makes a system "thorough and efficient"? Initially, this difference in the choice of relevant state constitutional provisions was not self-evidently important, because the New Jersey court in Robinson I seemed to treat the education clause as imposing the same equity norms that the California Supreme Court found in its state equal protection clause. For advocates at the time, therefore, this opened up a new ground in which to anchor their legal claims to school finance equity. Subsequently, however, state constitution education clauses have turned out to be sources of new notions of equity and ultimately school finance adequacy cases (more on this below).

New Jersey school finance litigation has carried on for more than 20 years, and remains unresolved. Over the years, the New Jersey Supreme Court's focus has not been constant. The roots of this instability may be seen in Robinson I. The court announced that the education clause required the state to afford every pupil "educational opportunit[ies] that will equip [him] for his role as citizen and as competitor in the labor market" (Robinson I, 1973:293). Yet despite its embrace of this qualitative notion, the court focused its analysis of the state's compliance with that standard exclusively on quantitative measures of dollar inputs. "We deal with the problem in those terms because dollar input is plainly relevant and because we have been shown no other viable criterion for measuring compliance with the constitutional standard" (Robinson I, 1973:295).

Three years after its decision in Robinson I, the court reviewed the constitutionality of the legislature's response. The revised school funding legislation relied in part on the adoption of a version of the Coons team's district power-equalization scheme, under which "each district retained the authority to set its

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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own school tax rate, while the state supplied aid sufficient to provide each district with the revenues it would have reaped from its chosen tax rate had its property wealth equalized 135 percent of the statewide average property wealth per student" (Enrich, 1995:132). This suggests that the legislature understood the principle of fiscal neutrality used by the court. At the same time, however, the revised school law also established a mechanism for the state to adopt education standards and monitor students' success in meeting those standards.

When these reforms reached the New Jersey Supreme Court they were found to have brought the state into compliance (Robinson V, 355 A.2d 129, 1976). But this time, the majority and concurring opinion focused more on the substantive education goals and opportunities outlined in the new legislation than on the finance provisions. To the extent that the finance provisions were addressed at all, the inquiry was whether they would afford sufficient financial support for the education system, not on inter-district inequities. Put differently, the structure of this 1976 New Jersey decision was to look first to the quality of educational opportunities as a constitutional requirement, and then back into finance as a means of assuring that all students have access to those opportunities.

Litigation in New Jersey during the late 1980s and 1990s has incorporated both the educational opportunity strand and the strict dollar equalization strand of the Robinson era decisions. The Abbott v. Burke litigation, filed on behalf of a group of the state's poorest urban school systems, has made several trips to the New Jersey Supreme Court over the last decade. Two results have emerged. First, the court has required that the state equalize the spending in the poorest districts to that of the wealthiest districts. Second, the court has also required that the state provide additional funding to the poorer districts to account for the extra educational needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds (Abbott, 643 A.2d 575, 1994). The court's most recent decision in 1998 (Abbott v. Burke, N.J. Sup. Ct. May 1998) moves further in the direction of constitutionally required educational quality, directing the state to implement a broad-based education reform package. Interestingly, those sweeping reforms were largely recommended to the lower court by the State Commissioner of Education. Now that they have been incorporated into the state supreme court's order, they take on the force of law and will bind the state government. At long last, after more than two decades of litigation, the New Jersey battle over school finance equity appears to be over.

Washington and West Virginia

While fiscal neutrality (the Coons team's Proposition I) dominated the school finance literature and the scholarly and policy debates of the early 1970s, two other state court decisions moved toward a different notion of equity during this same period. This notion might be called equity in access to adequate educational opportunities. Those two decisions established the conceptual precursor for today's educational adequacy movement. Adequacy broadens the notion of

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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equity from one predominantly focused on financial inequalities arising from the structure of the school finance system, to one focused on equally providing all students what is required for them to have a fair opportunity to achieve desired educational outcomes (see Chapter 6 for a fuller discussion of the adequacy movement).

This way of thinking about equity first crept into the Washington Supreme Court's 1978 school finance ruling, which held that the state's school funding system violated the Washington Constitution's education clause (Seattle v. State of Washington, 585 P.2d 71, 1978). Plaintiffs in the case were the Seattle School District, parents, and educational advocates. They contended that the state school finance system's reliance on "special excess levy funding" by local school systems—which required voter approval and had failed in the last two local elections—deprived the city school district of the funds necessary to provide students with educational opportunities in compliance with state statutes and regulations.

In 1979, the West Virginia Supreme Court expanded the notion of equal and adequate educational opportunities (Pauley v. Kelly, 255 S.E.2d 859, 1979) and identified a set of broad goals for a constitutionally valid education system. The high court then remanded the case back to the trial court for further hearings.

The lower court outlined the basic elements of a "thorough and efficient" educational system as mandated by the constitution. Those elements were classified into broad categories of curriculum, personnel, facilities, and materials and equipment. The court found that the systems in existence in the plaintiff school district and other property-poor districts around the state were "woefully inadequate." The court also found that the state system of financing education was discriminatory, favoring property-wealthy districts over property-poor districts. Lastly, the court found positive correlation between the quality of a county's education system and the wealth of real and personal property (Franklin, 1987).

Consistent with the historical role of other courts in such cases, the trial judge left the design of the plan to the legislature. In 1983, the trial court approved the Master Plan for Education developed by the state legislature and State Department of Education. The plan included the development of education standards and curricula geared to those standards, improved facilities, and a revised school finance plan. The programmatic remedies sparked by the high court's decisions went beyond mere tinkering with the state school finance formula, and instead restructured the entire state education system.

On the school finance side, the Master Plan first established a time line and procedure for equalizing teacher salaries around the state. In addition, revenue was earmarked to fund fully current operations expenses in all counties. In conjunction with the new education standards developed under the plan, the state was to conduct an analysis of the additional costs that would be associated in each county with meeting the standards. Lastly, several features sought to address the disparities in revenue availability that resulted from variations in local property

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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tax bases, including a move to statewide excess levies and some provisions that would recapture revenues raised in wealthy districts for use in poorer ones.

Like the New Jersey litigation, however, the West Virginia litigation has returned to court. In April 1997, the West Virginia Supreme Court found that the State had failed to fully implement and abide by the terms of the Master Plan. The court ordered that the full implementation of the Master Plan be achieved during 1998.

To reemphasize the point, the Washington and West Virginia cases expanded the notion of equity that previously had dominated school finance litigation. Equity arguments in the late 1960s and early 1970s focused on disparities in taxable wealth and per-pupil expenditures, whereas some courts in the late 1970s shifted the focus toward achieving equity in the educational opportunities and student outcomes in particular districts. This shift changed not only the focus of the arguments and evidence in school finance cases, but as the West Virginia case illustrates, it also called for legislative remedies directed specifically at educational programs and services, not just revenues and expenditures.

State Victories

Many of the lawsuits brought on behalf of school finance equity in the 1970s were unsuccessful. Courts in Oregon, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all rejected challenges to their state school funding systems.18 Those decisions relied on rationales that would prove fatal to many other school finance challenges in the coming decades.

Some courts essentially adopted the outlook of the United States Supreme Court in Rodriguez. For example, the Idaho Supreme Court in Thompson v. Engelking (1975) expressed concern about judicial intrusion into matters traditionally reserved for the legislature. As the court noted, agreeing with the plaintiffs' contentions "would be an unwise and unwarranted entry into the controversial area of public school financing, whereby this court would convene as a 'super-legislature,' legislating in a turbulent field of social, economic and political policy" (Thompson, 1975:640). That separation-of-powers concern was echoed in many decisions rejecting school funding equity challenges in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Idaho court also expressed some doubt as to whether equal funding had a significant relationship to educational quality:

Assuming, arguendo, that the Idaho Constitution requires that our public school students receive equal educational opportunities, we cannot adopt the ultimate conclusion advanced by respondents, i.e. , that unless a substantially equal amount of funds are expended per-pupil throughout the state, subject only to natural variations such as sparsity of population, students in those districts receiving less than that district with the greatest expenditure per student are denied equal educational opportunities (Thompson, 1975:341-42).

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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That issue of whether and how much money matters continues to be a significant point of contention in most school finance cases today.

The Oregon Supreme Court's 1979 decision in Olsen v. State picked up on a different theme from Rodriguez. It rejected a school finance challenge primarily on the ground that the state's asserted interest in promoting local control justified the disparities in funding produced by the finance system. Unlike the Serrano court, the Oregon court held that the fact that some districts in the state may have less local control over spending because they have access to fewer resources does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that the state equal protection clause has been violated. Among other things, the Oregon court feared that if disparities in local governments' ability to raise revenue for education led to an equal protection violation, that same logic might be used to attack disparities in resource availability for other government functions, such as police and fire protection.

In Danson v. Casey (1979), the City School District of Philadelphia alleged that the state's heavy reliance on locally generated revenues to fund schools, and the city school district's inability to raise such revenues, had led to a budget crisis in the school district requiring dramatic cutbacks in the educational programs offered to students.19 The plaintiffs contended that the finance system violated the Pennsylvania constitution's education clause, which required the state to provide for the "maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth" (Pa. Const. art. 3, sec. 14).

The Danson court rejected the plaintiffs' claims in large part due to the district's position of relative wealth in the state as a whole. Like many urban school systems, Philadelphia spent more per pupil than a large proportion of the other school districts in the state (Danson, 1979:365, note 10). That position of relative "wealth" obviously bothered the court and led it to question the plaintiffs' alleged injury. In other words, so far as Philadelphia was concerned, its pupils appeared to be winners, not losers, if one were to apply the Coons team's Proposition I.

To be sure, a case might be made that at least two adjustments should be made in ascertaining a large urban district's "wealth" (its available assessed value of property per pupil). First, urban areas faced higher costs to deliver the same product (primarily because of higher wages in the cities resulting from higher living costs). Second, because urban areas had to deliver so many noneducational services to their population, their "municipal overburden" reduced the amount of the tax base available for schools. The Coons team discussed both of these ideas in their writings, recognizing that to take them into account threatened the easy judicial manageability of a simplified application of Proposition I.

Even these adjustments would not satisfy the Philadelphia plaintiffs, however, because they essentially sought to replay the legal-aid lawyers' early needs-based theory under the state constitution. In any event, the Pennsylvania court conceded only that its state "thorough and efficient" clause might assure pupils

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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some sort of "minimum" or "basic" level of educational opportunities. But the plaintiffs failed to allege that this basic level of educational opportunity had been denied.

In sum, during the 1970s, by means of a variety of theories and demands, several state courts aggressively trod into the school finance fray that the United States Supreme Court declined to enter. The plaintiffs' success in about half of the decided cases created a genuine school finance litigation industry.

The 1980s: If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

From 1980 through 1988, two state high court decisions invalidated their school finance systems,20 while eight upheld systems as constitutional. 21 Plaintiffs in these 10 cases relied almost exclusively on traditional finance equity claims. More or less relying on the Coons team's Proposition I, their evidence and arguments focused primarily on the disparities in resource availability between wealthy and poor school districts that resulted from the systems' reliance on local property tax revenue as a chief source of public school funding.

Judicial restraint and deference to the legislative process—the Rodriguez perspective—characterized most decisions of this decade. When faced with state equal protection clause challenges, most courts took the view that education was not a fundamental right entitled to strict scrutiny under their state constitution (Underwood, 1995). Applying the more deferential rational basis test, those courts upheld their finance systems—and the local control they fostered.

So too, in response to arguments based on education clauses, most courts during this period took a very narrow view of what those provisions required of the state legislatures (Underwood, 1995). Courts often held that the education clauses did not require the state to adopt a particular school funding system, and certainly did not preclude a reliance on locally generated revenue as a source of funding for schools. Moreover, those courts did not view the education clauses as embodying notions of equity, and thus did not view the disparities in the availability of financial resources for schools as a problem of constitutional significance.

In rejecting traditional equity claims, many of the decisions of the 1980s also expressed frustration that plaintiffs did not allege what they considered to be sufficient injury. Several criticized plaintiffs for failing to demonstrate that, merely by having less money spent on them, students in property-poor school districts were denied their constitutional rights.22

Nonetheless, decisions rejecting finance equity claims often left the door open to possible future cases alleging that the state was failing to afford districts sufficient resources to provide students with the basic, minimum, or adequate educational opportunity required by state's education clause (Verstegen, 1995; Enrich, 1995).23 As a result, despite initial school finance litigation failures in Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, plaintiffs in

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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each of those states later initiated "adequacy" suits and already have been successful in two of them. Most strikingly, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that although the state constitution does not require equality in the distribution of educational resources, it does require that all students have access to adequate educational opportunities.

The two plaintiff victories in the 1980s—the Wyoming and Arkansas challenges—reflected the equity concept embodied in the Coons team's theory. Both state supreme courts struck down their school finance systems on the grounds that the property wealth located in a district largely determined the amount of revenue that was available to finance education. Such wealth-based disparities were found in both cases to be offensive to the state constitutions, although in the Wyoming case the court relied primarily upon the equal protection guarantees, while in Arkansas the court rested its decision upon both the state constitution's education and equal protection clauses.

Into the 1990s

A turning point in school finance litigation occurred in 1989. In that year alone, 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.24

Texas

In Texas, the court relied on a traditional finance equity rationale (Edgewood v. Kirby, 777 S.W.2d 391, 1989), embracing the Coons team's fiscal neutrality theory in the very state in which the United States Supreme Court had rejected it. The plaintiffs' evidence focused on the glaring disparities in property wealth between the wealthiest and poorest communities in the state—disparities that reflected an astounding 700 to 1 ratio—and the resulting disparities in per-pupil expenditures, ranging from $2,112 to $19,333 (Edgewood, 1989:392).

The Texas Supreme Court agreed that the wealth-based disparities in funding for public schools were illegal and had to be corrected by the state legislature. Hence, the poor Texas school districts were able to achieve through state law what they had earlier failed to achieve in Rodriguez. Unlike the California experience, however, the new Texas decision was not based on the equal protection requirements of the state constitution.

Instead, the court relied on the state constitution's 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 bottom line conclusion was much the same, however. The Texas Supreme Court concluded that the Texas school funding system "provide[d] not for a diffusion of knowledge that is general, but for one that is limited and unbalanced" (Edgewood,

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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1989:396). According to the court, the disparities created by the school finance system were antithetical to the constitution's commands of efficiency and equity.

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 four times in the 1990s, with the court repeatedly 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. In essence, Texas modified its existing two-tier school finance structure. Tier 1 (similar to conventional "foundation plans") provides a guaranteed base level of spending per pupil for each district in the state that taxes itself at a state-determined minimum. Tier 2 is a guaranteed yield system (similar to district power equalizing) that provides each district with the opportunity to supplement the basic program at a level of its own choosing. To accomplish that objective, for every cent of additional tax effort beyond that amount required to qualify for Tier 1 funding, the state guaranteed a yield of $20.55 per weighted student.

The controversial part of the new plan involves a form of state recapture of part of the revenue generated by wealthy districts. The plan requires the Commissioner of Education each year to review the tax base per pupil of every school district in the state. Any district with more than $280,000 per pupil may elect one of five options to bring its taxable property under the cap (Edgewood, 1995:4): (1) total consolidation with another property poor district, (2) detachment of territory for taxable valuation purposes, (3) purchase of average daily attendance credits from a property-poor district, (4) contracting for the education of nonresident students, or (5) tax base consolidation with another property-poor district. Options 1 and 2 can be exercised by agreement of two school districts, while options 3, 4, and 5 require voter approval. The new plan was to be phased in gradually, and allowed districts flexibility so as not to require that their expenditures drop below certain levels.

The Texas legislation included many nonfinance reforms, comparable to the wake of the earlier West Virginia and New Jersey school finance decisions. The state set education goals and established a series of assessments to measure districts' progress in meeting those goals. While not mandated by the court's rulings, these programmatic reforms to the education system reflect the aspiration of the Coons team noted earlier. That is, when state school finance politics is freed from its conventional rich-district/poor-district battles, the legislature is more likely to focus on more systemic educational reforms. Where this happens, the legislature may voluntarily embrace the same approach that other legislatures are forced to adopt through "adequacy" cases.

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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Kentucky

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

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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this question. We anticipate that the system will be deemed in compliance when the legislature, in good faith and with steadfast purpose, has enacted a scheme designed to provide pupils with a fair opportunity to succeed. Yet, the sort of scheme that will pass this test remains rather elusive. Must it have certain minimum school finance and spending fairness features, and if so, which ones? Must it have certain governance, accountability, and curricular features, and if so, which? Will this turn out to be a procedural requirement? To return to an earlier theme, perhaps the court will be looking for evidence that the political process abandoned the conventional fight between rich and poor school districts and instead focused its attention on what would be educationally best for the children in the state. Because the ''adequacy" approach is so new, its future remains uncertain.

In Kentucky, the legislature responded to the court's decision by enacting a sweeping and comprehensive statewide education reform package—the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA; Trimble and Forsaith, 1995). On the school funding side, KERA established a new foundation program that substantially increased the guaranteed minimum per-pupil expenditure statewide.25 In addition to the funding reforms, KERA mandated a new statewide performance-based assessment system tied to new content-education standards, statewide curriculum frameworks, an accountability system with rewards and sanctions for schools tied to the achievement of high academic standards and the new assessments, as well as school-based decision-making statewide. While some debate whether and how much that reform has improved (or is likely to improve) student achievement, few question the sweeping nature of the reforms. Moreover, on the money side, a state that prior to 1990 was one of the lowest spending on public education in the country is now near the middle. Whether the Kentucky Supreme Court will be asked to pass on these reforms and, if so, what it might say, remains uncertain.

The 1990s: New Approaches and Mixed Results

Overview

The impact of the Kentucky decision and the legislature's response has been felt in many state courts across the country. Since 1989, courts in Alabama and Massachusetts have directly followed the Kentucky precedent. They have declared their education systems to be constitutionally inadequate under state law and have specifically relied on the Kentucky Supreme Court's definition of an adequate education when providing guidance to the state legislatures as they craft remedies (Alabama Coalition for Equity v. Hunt, reprinted in Appendix to Opinion of the Justices, 624 So.2d 107, 1993; McDuffy v. Secretary of Educ., 615 N.E.2d 516, 1993).

Five other state courts26 have also found that their state constitutions require

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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the systems of education to afford students adequate opportunities to achieve broad educational outcomes, but those courts have relied on more general statements of what is constitutionally required.

Not every state's high court, however, has been receptive to adequacy arguments. In Illinois, where the state constitution's education clause explicitly requires the state to "provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services," the Illinois Supreme Court rejected attempts by plaintiffs to involve the judiciary in determining whether the quality of education offered in the plaintiff districts met the constitutional standard. According to the court, "questions relating to the quality of education are solely for the legislative branch to answer" (Committee for Educational Rights v. Edgar, 672 N.E.2d 1178, Ill. 1996). The high courts in Rhode Island and Florida relied on a similar rationale in rejecting adequacy-based claims.27

As in the 1980s, several court decisions in the 1990s in Maine, Virginia, and Minnesota have rejected traditional finance equity challenges, while at the same time leaving the door open to future arguments that the state system of education must meet a standard of adequacy. 28 These decisions reveal the ambiguities and tensions between states and school districts in moving to an adequacy standard: states may simply provide enough aid for an adequate education (some or all of which the district may use for tax relief) or compel the districts to spend as much on education as required to provide an adequate education as defined by the legislature. These states are fertile ground for future court cases alleging that the state system of education is not providing students with a constitutionally adequate education. In fact, such a case was filed in 1996 in Minnesota.

Wyoming

The migration by state courts away from requiring only fiscal equity to insisting on more is nicely demonstrated by developments in Wyoming. In 1980, the Wyoming Supreme Court had found that the state education funding system violated the state constitution's equity requirement, primarily because the system did not achieve equality of financing (Washakie v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, Wyo. 1980). Fifteen years later, the court ordered the state legislature to determine the cost of the "proper" educational package for each Wyoming student (see Minorini and Sugarman, Chapter 6 in this volume). In response to this latest decision, the Wyoming legislature promptly formed several task forces charged with the duty to respond to the court's mandate.

The Wyoming court did emphasize that, once having decided what sort of education system is proper, the legislature would have to find a way to pay for it. The decision seems to require that the legislature place education funding above all other social and governmental services in its budgetary process. Of course, in Kentucky too the court presumably would be dissatisfied with a legislative response that specified what was needed to meet the court's broad guidelines but

Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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then candidly conceded that insufficient funds were appropriated to implement the new system. Moreover, it is politically naive to expect the Wyoming legislators to be blind to what things cost and what they think the state can afford as they go about deciding what a "proper educational package" for all Wyoming students should be. Nonetheless, the thrust of the Wyoming court's decision is to try to change the political dynamics of its legislature's approach to school finance and education more generally.

Events since the court's decision, however, illustrate the intensely political nature of school funding controversies. The legislature worked diligently over the course of a year and a half to meet the court's requirements, and in June of 1997 passed a revised school funding plan. The Governor soon vetoed that bill, however, prompting both the original plaintiffs and several state legislators to return to court to compel compliance.

In the spring of 1998, the legislative and executive branches came together and worked out a reform that they hope will comply with the court's orders. The new school finance law raises school district funding from the state by $76.5 million, increasing the upcoming year's total education budget to $632.3 million. School funding is now based on a professional model of what sums ought to suffice to provide a high-quality public education for all Wyoming schoolchildren—taking into account differences among districts in both educational costs and pupil needs. The new law also establishes student assessment standards.

Vermont

While adequacy claims are now dominating the field of school finance litigation, some cases continue to be fought on traditional equity grounds. For example, a group of students and parents in property-poor school districts in Vermont field suit challenging the constitutionality of the state school funding system, which allowed 79 percent of a school district's funds to be raised locally. The result of heavy reliance on local property taxes as a source of funding for the schools was that some wealthy districts spent twice as much per pupil as other less affluent districts. In its 1997 decision, the Vermont Supreme Court found that such disparities in resource availability, and the consequent disparities in educational opportunities throughout the state, violated the state constitution's equal protection clause (Brigham, No. 96–502, Vt. 1997). Reminiscent of the Coons team's theory, the Vermont decision suggests that future school finance systems in Vermont will not be able to have the wealth of a district's property base determine the educational resources and opportunities available to students.

In response to the decision, the Vermont legislature passed a new school finance, education reform, and tax reform plan during the 1997 session, which includes several components. This plan:

  • creates a per-student block grant ($5,000 for 1997) that is given to each
  • Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    district based on its equalized pupil count; the block grant will be adjusted by annual price index; pupil count is weighted to reflect poverty, primary/secondary students, and limited English proficiency;

  • appropriates additional $9.6 million for capital construction;
  • allows discretionary spending by local districts above the block grant and provides for equalization of ability to raise funds for this spending;
  • includes several education reforms including student standards, new assessments, school improvement grants, early childhood programs, and others;
  • replaces local property taxes for schools with a statewide education property tax, setting one rate for homestead and nonresidential property; and
  • finances the changes through a statewide education property tax and various tax increases.
  • Ohio

    Recent court decisions in Ohio blur the lines between equity and adequacy. In the 1970s, an Ohio Supreme Court decision had squarely rejected a traditional equity challenge to the state's school finance system. In 1991, however, a coalition of plaintiffs filed suit claiming that the education provided in their schools was constitutionally inadequate. Following a lengthy trial, the court ruled for the plaintiffs, relying heavily on the Kentucky court's prior articulation of adequacy standards in elaborating the Ohio constitution's requirements. That trial court decision, however, was quickly appealed by the state attorney general's office.

    In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision, but the high court focused more on educational inputs, traditionally associated with the equity theory, than on outputs, which tend to be more of a focus in adequacy decisions (DeRolph v. State, 79 Oh.St.3d 297, 1997). The court criticized the heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund schools, reminded the legislature of their responsibility to support a "statewide" education system, called for a "systemic overhaul" of the funding system, and gave the legislature a year to develop a new finance system. Despite the court's emphasis on input equity, however, the state legislature's response to the court was more in keeping with the trial court's broader ruling.

    Like the Wyoming legislature, the Ohio legislature attempted to determine what it would cost to provide all students in the state with an adequate and equitable education. To determine that amount, the legislature looked at the spending patterns of districts within the state that were in compliance with state input and outcome standards. Using an average spending level for those districts, and adjusting for differing costs around the state and for differing need-levels of student populations, the legislature has established a baseline level of school spending that each district will be assured. It remains to be seen whether these new arrangements will be the subject of legal challenge.

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    Summing Up: The Future Of School Finance Litigation

    As we have seen, most of the early legal theories attacking school funding arrangements emphasized equality in a way that implied either a dramatic raising up of the wealth and/or spending level of poor, low-spending districts or a leveling down of the advantaged districts (or a combination of both). The Coons team, for example, had counted on the strong commitment to high spending of many of the high-wealth/high-spending districts as a force that would promote greater educational spending across the board. Even though this did not happen in California, it does appear to be a major consequence of successful school finance "equity" cases in other states (Evans et al., 1997).

    Nowadays, however, the emphasis of many school finance reformers has shifted. For one thing, restraining or bringing down spending at the top is very unpopular (in some quarters some families shift to private schools, or equity-evading tactics in wealthy communities result in the creation of community foundations that supplement the public school funding provided by government). Yet, to raise spending everywhere up to the top (even if a few outlier districts are excluded) seems too expensive in many states. At the same time, many of those who complain about the public schools seem to care less that their children (or those they represent) are relatively worse off and more that they are badly off in an absolute sense.

    These factors have combined to cause legal activists to change tactics, which have been supported by some courts. Although courts in many states have by now rejected the traditional "equity" claims, other more ambitious cases demanding "adequacy" are winning.

    In the end, however, these two different legal approaches—equity and adequacy—are not so far apart as some commentators have suggested (Clune, 1993; Underwood, 1995). For example, although "adequacy" candidly concerns itself with educational outcomes, its advocates are not insisting that students have a legally enforceable "right" to any particular outcome. Rather, they appear to argue that each school district must have adequate resources, given its circumstances and the nature of its pupils, to be able to offer an educational program that reasonably promises to teach at least most of them to reasonably high standards. This principle is more ambitious as a legal standard than fiscal neutrality because it focuses on more than dollar inputs. At the same time, it contains many "soft" words that courts cannot define with clarity. Nevertheless, it carries a meaning that some courts do seem comfortable with in two critical respects. First, these courts believe that they can readily tell that, at least in some states, the adequacy principle is clearly not being met; and second, they feel that they will be able to determine whether the systemic revisions developed by the legislature constitute genuine responses to the adequacy standard.

    Still, even as the courts embracing the adequacy idea envision legislative responses that will include more than mere financial changes, these courts seem

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    best able to deal with the money side. As noted above, although the New Jersey Supreme Court, has moved down the "adequacy" path, its most recent ruling is that if the wealthy communities need so many dollars per pupil to educate their children, then the poverty-ridden central cities surely need that much and more. Adequacy, in short, is anchored in some notion of spending equity.

    Indeed, New Jersey is of special interest because it is traditionally among the highest spending states in the country, perhaps the highest. Even low-spending New Jersey districts currently have available to them more money per pupil than the national average. Hence, one might well have assumed that New Jersey's spending level everywhere was at least "adequate"—unless school funding arrangements are to be deemed woefully inadequate throughout virtually the entire United States (which, some would argue, is true). But since New Jersey continues to have substantial spending inequalities, the court was able to order reform on behalf of the neediest districts by casting adequacy in relative equity terms.

    Although the group of successful adequacy cases employs language that generally emphasizes educational reform beyond finance, it would be a mistake to imagine that system-wide reforms are taking place only in these states. After all, since the early 1980s the country as a whole has given much greater attention to educational productivity. So, too, throughout the country today, legislatures are involved with two new powerful reform movements—(1) educational standards and (2) school choice—that also make claims about how to connect the spending of money with better educational outcomes.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in the end both the equity and adequacy theories depend upon the courts primarily to perform the role of striking down the traditional approaches to school finance. That is, both theories look to the legislature to provide equal educational opportunity to all of the children of the state. How the legislature does that is ultimately up to the legislature and not the court, even if the court provides the negative prod of insisting that one response or another is insufficient. We can speculate whether the courts in states like Kentucky and Wyoming will at some point involve themselves intimately in the details of their state's educational reforms. (In Kentucky, which many cite as the strongest "adequacy" case, the reform effort has been sent back to the legislature to handle without maintaining judicial supervision over the response.) Therefore, by their demands that their state provide enhanced financial backing for school districts that are unfairly disadvantaged, it is safer for the present to see those judges adopting adequacy theories as still acting in the school equity tradition.

    In these newer cases the courts seem to be bolder in describing what constitutes an unfair disadvantage, and this unwillingness gives adequacy and equity different legal meanings. A different way to put the point is that the adequacy banner is a successful reemergence of the early, then unsuccessful, educational "needs" theories of the legal aid lawyers. This suggests that the relative caution exhibited by the Coons team and other early legal theorists may have been unwarranted.

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    Or perhaps courts needed to gain experience from and comfort with the narrower equity theories before embracing a broader theory.

    Whether this recent greater boldness by lawyers and judges will have significantly different consequences for children is another matter, however. That determination will require careful observation of the way school reform and school finance reform unfold in the years ahead.

    In any event, what does seem clear is that litigation aimed at achieving school finance reform has not yet run its course. We should look for the filing of more "adequacy" cases. We should anticipate that some states with "adequacy" decisions against them will be hauled back into court on the ground that they have not done enough. And, we should expect that some lawyers will continue to bring some traditional "equity" cases, as exemplified by the recent Vermont case.

    Moreover, once "adequacy" talk becomes more common, we might expect to see more intra-district school finance cases. In the past, this has not been viewed as a fruitful litigation target because of the absence of an obvious structural objection to the way districts distribute their money to schools. This is in contrast to the ready objection that has been mounted against the local property tax-based system for getting money to districts. Moreover, the schools with the most children from low-income families and the highest proportion of educationally-least-successful children often spend more dollars per pupil than the district average when state and federal categorical aid are counted. But as judicial concerns about need and outcomes come more to the fore, there are sure to be those whose objections may be couched in terms of how poor children in some schools within urban districts fare compared with other children in the district. Indeed, litigation of this sort is ongoing now in Los Angeles.

    In conclusion, although there may be less school finance inequity today than there was 30 years ago, a substantial degree remains.29 To the extent that states with successful school finance litigation have less inequality, and this appears broadly to be the case, reformers will have continued reason to take their battles to the courtroom. This incentive is magnified as courts show a broad willingness to respond to the widespread view that the whole public schooling enterprise is inadequate, especially in its failure to educate successfully too many of our urban poor children. Whether school finance reform alone can turn that failure around remains quite unclear. For example, no one has been able to show that the narrowed spending differentials achieved by successful school finance equity cases in the 1970s and 1980s directly led to a narrowing of educational achievement differentials. Yet advocates for judicial intervention continue to believe not only that school finance reform is required by the norm of basic fairness, but also that reform is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for improving the educational attainment of those now served poorly by our public schools.

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    Notes

    1.  

    Most state constitutions contain one or more provisions that either parallel the federal Constitution's equal protection clause or have been interpreted to afford similar protections (Williams, 1985). For typical examples, see Ill. Const., art. 1, sec. 2 (stating that "[n]o person shall … be denied the equal protection of the laws"); and Minn Const., art. 1, sec. 2 (stating that "[n]o member of this state shall be disenfranchised or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land").

    2.  

    State constitutions' education clauses vary in their language, although all impose a duty on the state government to make provision for a "system" of education. State education clauses are collected in an appendix to Hubsch (1992). A number of them require state legislatures to provide for a "thorough and efficient system" of public schools. See, e.g., N.J. Const., art. 8, sec. 4, para. 1. Others impose a duty on the state to make "ample" provisions for a ''system" of education. See, e.g., Mass. Const., pt. 2, ch. 5, sec. 2.

    3.  

    For a thorough discussion of the equal protection jurisprudence at the time, see Serrano v. Priest, 487 P.2d 1241, 1255-59 (Cal. 1971).

    4.  

    See Baker v. Carr, 398 U.S. 186 (1962).

    5.  

    See McInnis v. Shapiro, 293 F. Supp. 327 (N.D. Il. 1968), aff'd sub nom., McInnis v. Ogilvie, 349 U.S. 322 (1969); Burrus v. Wilkerson , 310 F. Supp. 572 (W.D. Va. 1969), aff'd per curiam, 397 U.S. 44 (1970).

    6.  

    The Coons team's theory also was accepted by a federal district court in Minnesota, Van Dusartz v. Hatfield, 334 F. Supp. 870 (D. Minn. 1971), but the Rodriguez decision soon rendered that victory moot.

    7.  

    See Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471 (1970).

    8.  

    See, e.g., U.S. v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745 (1966); Shapiro v. Thompson , 394 U.S. 618 (1969); Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970) (opinion of Brennan, White, and Marshall, JJ.).

    9.  

    Litigation concerning other areas of students' rights protected by statute and the U.S. Constitution, such as special education, desegregation, and bilingual education, sometimes have had significant consequences for school finance and resource allocation in many states throughout the country. For example, as a result of school desegregation litigation in the late 1980s, the state of Missouri was compelled by the court to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kansas City school district (Missouri v. Jenkins, 495 U.S. 33, 1990).

    10.  

    Underwood (1995) provides a thorough discussion of the constitutional basis for state school finance decisions.

    11.  

    See Serrano v. Priest (Serrano II), 557 P.2d 929, 951 (Cal. 1976), cert. denied, 432 U.S. 907 (1977); Pauley v. Kelly, 255 S.W.2d 859, 878 (W.Va. 1979); Washakie Co. Sch. Dist. v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 340 (Wyo. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 824 (1980).

    12.  

    A number of state equal protection cases involving challenges to school

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    finance systems have proceeded to overturn those systems applying the less rigorous rational basis test. See Dupree v. Alma Sch. Dist. No. 30, 651 S.W.2d 90 (Ark. 1983); Edgewood v. Kirby, 777 S.W.2d 391 (Tex. 1989); Tennessee Small Sch. Systems v. McWherter, 851 S.W.2d 139 (Tenn. 1993).

    13.  

    As the Tennessee Supreme Court observed: "The decisions of the courts in [other] jurisdictions provide little guidance in construing the reach of the education clause of the Tennessee constitution. This is true because the decisions by the courts of other states are necessarily controlled in large measure by the particular working of the constitutional provisions of those state charters regarding education and, to a lesser extent, organization and funding" (Tennessee Sm. Sch. Sys. v. McWherter, 851 S.W.2d 139, Tenn. 1993).

    14.  

    See, e.g., Rose v. The Council, 790 S.W.2d 186 (Ky. 1989); McDuffy v. Secretary of Education, 615 N.E.2d 516 (Mass. 1993).

    15.  

    Note also that the Connecticut Supreme Court embraced the Coons team's theory in a 1977 decision, Horton v. Meskill, 376 A.2d 359 (Conn. 1977).

    16.  

    See Thompson v. Engelking, 537 P.2d 635 (Idaho, 1975); Olsen v. State, 554 P.2d 139 (Oreg. 1976); Danson v. Casey, 399 A.2d 360 (Pa. 1979).

    17.  

    San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 337 F. Supp. 280 (W.D. Tex. 1971); Van Dusartz v. Hatfield, 333 F. Supp. 870 (D. Minn. 1971)

    18.  

    Thompson v. Engelking, 537 P.2d 635 (Idaho 1975); Olsen v. State , 554 P. 2d 139 (Idaho 1976); Board of Educ. v. Walter, 390 N.E.2d 813 (Ohio 1979); Danson v. Casey, 399 A.2d 360 (Pa. 1979).

    19.  

    The cutbacks included the elimination of all kindergarten classes, athletic programs, extracurricular programs, the music program, all library programs, school lunch and breakfast programs, all bussing programs except for special education, all counseling services, and approximately 536 reading teachers (Danson, 1979).

    20.  

    Washakie Co. Sch. Dist. v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310 (Wyo. 1980); Dupree v. Alma Sch. Dist. No. 30, 651 S.W.2d 90 (Ark. 1983).

    21.  

    McDaniels v. Thomas, 285 S.E.2d 156 (Ga. 1981); Levittown v. Nyquist, 439 N.E.2d 359 (N.Y. 1982); Lujan v. Co. Bd. of Educ., 649 P.2d 1005 (Col. 1982); Hornbeck v. Somerset Co., 458 A.2d 758 (Md. 1983); East Jackson v. Michigan, 348 N.W.2d 303 (Mich. App. 1984); Fair School v. Oklahoma, 746 P.2d 1135 (Okla. 1987); Britt v. North Carolina, 357 S.E.2d 432 (N.C. 1987); Richland v. Campbell, 364 S.E.2d 470 (S.C. 1988).

    22.  

    Hornbeck v. Somerset Co. Bd. of Educ. (1983); Britt v. State of North Carolina (1987); Board of Educ. v. Nyquist (1987); Kukor v. Grover (1989).

    23.  

    For example, in Maryland the court noted that: "No evidentiary showing was made …—indeed no allegation was even advanced—that these [state] qualitative [education] standards were not being met in any school district, … or that the State's school financing scheme did not provide all school districts with the means essential to provide the basic education contemplated" by the Constitution (Hornbeck v. Somerset Co. Bd. of Educ., 1983).

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    24.  

    In that same year, Wisconsin's school finance plan was upheld (Kukor v. Grover, 1989).

    25.  

    As a result of the new legislation, revenues for all school districts increased; the poorest districts increased 25 percent and the richest increased 8 percent (Alexander, 1991).

    26.  

    Leandro v. State of North Carolina, No. 179PA96 (July 24, 1997) (relying on Kentucky's definition of adequate education); Claremont Sch. Dist. v Gregg, 635 A.2d 1375 (N.H. 1993) (state constitution required the state to create and maintain an adequate education system that "includes broad educational opportunities needed in today's society to prepare citizens for their role as participants and as potential competitors in today's marketplace of ideas"); Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, 851 S.W.2d 139 (Tenn. 1993) ("The General Assembly shall maintain and support a system of free public schools that provides at least the opportunity to acquire general knowledge, develop the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally prepare students intellectually for a mature life"); Roosevelt Elem. Sch. Dist. v. Bishop, 877 P.2d 806 (Ariz. 1994); Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, 86 N.Y.2d 307 (N.Y. 1995) (state is constitutionally obligated to create and maintain an education system that provides children with: "the basic literacy, calculation, and verbal skills necessary to enable [them] to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury … [and] minimally adequate physical facilities and classrooms … to permit children to learn").

    27.  

    See Coalition for Adequacy v. Chiles, 680 So.2d 400 (Fla. 1996). ("Appellants have failed to demonstrate … an appropriate standard for determining 'adequacy' that would not present a substantial risk of judicial intrusion into the powers and responsibilities assigned to the legislature"); City of Pawtucket v. Sundlun, 662 A.2d 40 (R.I. 1995) ("what constitutes an 'equal, adequate, and meaningful' [education] is 'not likely to be divined for all time even by the scholars who now so earnestly debate the issues'").

    28.  

    See, e.g., Sch. Admin. Dist. #1 v. Commissioner of Educ., St. of Maine, 659 A.2d 854 (Maine 1995) (plaintiffs claims focused on equity and they did not claim that they were receiving an inadequate education); Scott v. State of Virginia, 443 S.E.2d 138 (Va. 1994) (state education clause required that state system allow each school district to provide an educational program that meets standards of quality as determined by the legislature, and no district before the court claimed that they could not meet such standards); Skeen v. State of Minnesota, 505 N.W.2d 299 (Minn. 1993) (the education clause required the state to provide enough funds to ensure that each student receives an adequate education, but the plaintiff school districts before the court conceded that they were providing such an education to their students with existing resources).

    29.  

    See School Finance: State Efforts to Reduce Funding Gaps Between Poor and Wealthy Districts, U.S. General Accounting Office, February 1997.

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×

    The GAO report presents data as of the 1991-92 school year and hence captures no reforms undertaken since then (although it does note which states have made significant changes since 1992). By our count, the following 10 states may perhaps be said to have had successful school finance litigation an appreciable time in advance of the GAO data collection date, with the date noted representing the date of the first successful high court decision: Arkansas (1983), California (1971), Connecticut (1977), Kentucky (1989), Montana (1989), New Jersey (1973), Texas (1989), Washington (1978), West Virginia (1979), and Wyoming (1985). Of course, for some of these states reform efforts made in response to court decisions may not yet have been significantly implemented by 1991-92; in others, time has eroded the earlier impact of reform; and in several, the state was taken back to court after the GAO 1991-92 cutoff date. Nonetheless, taken as a whole, these 10 states appear generally to rate more favorably on GAO's various measures of state effort to promote equity. For example, in the GAO report, Figure 1 (p. 8) illustrates the extent to which wealthy districts (as the GAO measures them) spend more than poor districts. Six of the 10 states noted above are in the bottom third (with the least amount of inequality), and only one is in the top third (most inequality). Figure 5 (p. 17) ranks the states in terms of what they have done to equalize spending. Six of the 10 states noted above are in the top third (most equalization); only three are in the bottom third (least equalization). Table 2 (p. 20) displays which states need to do the most to maximize their equalization efforts. Six of the 10 states noted above are not on the list, and none of the 10 is in the worst category (those needing both to shift considerable funds from rich to poor and to increase funding to the poor significantly). Because of the age of the GAO data and the particular ways in which it chooses to measure equity, one should be very careful not to make too much of these findings. Nevertheless, we suggest these results are readily taken by reformers to indicate that litigation can make a difference, and as a result, we should anticipate the school finance litigation effort to continue.

    References

    Alexander, K. 1991 The common school ideal and the limits of legislative authority: The Kentucky case. Harvard Journal of Legislation 28(2):341-366.


    Clune, W.H. 1993 The shift from equity to adequacy in school finance. The World and I 8(9):389-405.

    Coleman, J.S., E.Q. Campbell, C.J. Hobson, J. McPartland, A.M. Mead, F.D. Weinfeld, and R.L. York 1966 Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×

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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 38
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 39
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 40
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 41
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 42
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 43
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 45
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 46
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 47
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 48
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 49
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 65
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 67
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
    Page 69
    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Suggested Citation:"2 School Finance Litigation in the Name of Educational Equity: Its Evolution, Impact, and Future." National Research Council. 1999. Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance: Issues and Perspectives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6166.
    ×
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    Spending on K-12 education across the United States and across local school districts has long been characterized by great disparities--disparities that reflect differences in property wealth and tax rates. For more than a quarter-century, reformers have attempted to reduce these differences through court challenges and legislative action. As part of a broad study of education finance, the committee commissioned eight papers examining the history and consequences of school finance reform undertaken in the name of equity and adequacy. This thought-provoking, timely collection of papers explores such topics as:

    • What do the terms "equity" and "adequacy" in school finance really mean?
    • How are these terms relevant to the politics and litigation of school finance reform?
    • What is the impact of court-ordered school finance reform on spending disparities?
    • How do school districts use money from finance reform?
    • What policy options are available to states facing new challenges from court decisions mandating adequacy in school finance?
    • When measuring adequacy, how do you consider differences in student needs and regional costs?
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