State Role in Education Finance
In the 1973 case San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that education “is not among the rights afforded explicit protection under our Federal Constitution," but that "no other state function is so uniformly recognized as an essential element of our society's well-being." Rodriguez effectively removed the constitutional burden for providing public education away from the federal government and placed it squarely on the states. Since Rodriguez, state high courts in all but seven states have ruled with varying outcomes on whether their state systems were "equitably" or "adequately" providing public education as required by their respective state constitutional provisions (see below).
State legislative responses to these rulings have varied, but perhaps the long-term aggregate result is that collectively states now contribute the largest portion of funding for public education in the United States, surpassing total local government contributions for the first time in 1979. In 1956, for example, states contributed 39.5 percent of total K-12 revenues while local governments contributed 55.9 percent, and the rest, 4.6 percent, came from federal government contributions (K-12 Public Education Revenues: 50 Year Overview). By 2007, states contributed close to 4 percent more to total public education revenues than did local governments. At the height of the "adequacy"-based litigation movement in the late 1990s, states were contributing close to 7 percent more than local governments.
States also bear the burden of ensuring the statewide education finance system is founded on sound governance principles. A sound state school finance system:
Provides equity for both students and taxpayers.
Is efficient, making the best possible use of resources.
Provides adequate resources to local school districts so that they may achieve state and local educational goals and standards.
Incorporates fiscal accountability through generally accepted budgeting, accounting, and auditing procedures.
Promotes predictability and stability of education revenues and expenditures over time.
Post Rodriguez, an estimated 45 states have undergone legal challenges to their school finance systems. Information on recent school finance litigation is below.
As of February 2013, NCSL has identified ten states in the midst of education finance litigation challenging state school finance systems or foundation level funding for those systems:
Lobato v. State of Colorado - Trial court ruled for plaintiffs in December 2011. The defendants' appeal is currently before the Colorado Supreme Court.
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, 990 A.2d 206 (Conn. 2010) - In March 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed a trial court's decision to dismiss the case and remanded the case back to the trial court "to determine as a question of fact whether the state's educational resources and standards have in fact provided the public school students in this case with constitutionally suitable educational opportunities." A decision from the trial court is expected in 2014.
Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc. v. Florida State Board of Education - In September 2012, the Florida Supreme Court refused to consider the defendants' appeal to dismiss the case. The case is now moving forward in the pretrial phase.
Gannon v. State of Kansas - On January 10, 2013, a three-member panel ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, enjoining the state from implementing appropriations legislation that pegs per pupil state aid below the $4,492 constitutional floor. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt notified the Kansas Supreme Court of his office's intent to appeal the decision.
Abbott v. Burke - State is in the process of complying with a 2011 judicial order to fully fund School Funding Reform Act of 2008. The most recent order is the twenty-first reiteration of the ongoing line Abbott cases that started in the mid-1980s.
Hussein v. State, 973 N.E.2d 752 (N.Y. 2012) - Trial will commence in 2013 under the precedent set in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, 655 N.E.2d 661 (N.Y. 1995) (CFE I) and Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, 801 N.E.2d 326 (N.Y. 2003) (CFE II).
Woonsocket Sch. Comm. v. Chafee, No. 2010-946 (R.I. Providence Super. Ct. July 12, 2012) - On July 12, 2012 a state Superior Court dismissed the case citing that the plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action under the state constitution’s education clause. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs have appealed this decision to the state supreme court.
Abbeville Co. Sch. Dist. v. State of South Carolina - South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in September. A decision is forthcoming.
Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition (TTSFC) v. Scott - In February 2013, Judge John Dietz declared that the Texas public school finance system "fails to provide substantially equal access to revenue" and is "not adequately funded" in violation of the Texas Constitution. The state is currently readying its appeal.
McCleary v. State, 269 P.3d 227 (Wash. 2012) - The Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs and retained jurisdiction of the case "to monitor implementation" of its opinion.
Recently Resolved Litigation
Four states have witnessed resolutions to school finance legal challenges.
Moore v. State - In January 2012 the state settled the litigation with the plaintiffs.
Robles-Wong v. State and CQE v. State - This pair of recent cases in California have been dismissed by the trial courts. Plaintiffs have yet to appeal the rulings. For more information visit California School Boards Association - Education Legal Alliance.
Carr v. Koch, --- N.E.2d ----, 2012 IL 113414, 2012 WL 6115485 (Ill. 2012) - In November 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that plaintiff taxpayers lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of the state's education funding statute.
Hoke County Bd. of Educ. v. State, 731 S.E.2d 691 (N.C. 2012) - The Court of Appeals of North Carolina affirmed a trial court's order mandating the state not to deny any eligible at-risk four year old admission to the North Carolina Pre–Kindergarten Program.