The State Role in Education Finance

Dollar SignIn 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 states today collectively provide the largest share of funding for public education in the United States, surpassing the total local government share of funding—including local property tax revenues—for the first time in 1979. In 1950, for instance, states contributed 40 percent of the $5.4 billion total in K-12 revenues nationwide while local governments and the federal government contributed 57 percent and 3 percent respectively.

States’ share of total K-12 funding peaked in 2001 when states contributed almost 7 percent more than local governments to the $530 billion of total K-12 revenues for that year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Current and historical K-12 revenues figures can be found at NCES, and below:

Interactive Data Visualization

Compare State Elementary & Secondary Education Finance Figures

 

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.
  • Supports student learning.

State Constitutional Language Providing for Public Schools

Every state constitution contains a clause that requires the state—namely the legislature—to provide a system of free public education. Legal scholar, William E. Thro[1]has categorized these education clauses from weakest to strongest in terms of the fiduciary duty imposed on the state to provide public education. Additional legal scholarship[2] has struggled to find a correlation between the language of these clauses and litigation outcomes.

Below are the descriptions of Thro's categories:

Category
Thro's Definition
Category I “merely mandate a system of free public schools”
Category II “mandate that the system of public schools meet a certain minimum standard of quality, such as ‘thorough and efficient’”
Category III “distinguished from the Category I and II clauses by both a ‘stronger and more specific education mandate’ and ‘purposive preambles’”
Category IV “impose the greatest obligation on the state legislature…; they provide that education is ‘fundamental,’ ‘primary,’ or ‘paramount’”

Education Clauses Table

The table below provides the actual language pasted from each state's constitution. The table includes citations to each clause, along with Thro's original categorization of the clause. Some states have updated or adopted new language since Thro originally published his categorizations in 1993. In these instances, a new categorization has been applied based on Thro's definitions.

State
Citation
Constitutional Language Providing for Public Schools
Thro Category

Alabama[3]

Ala. Const. art. XIV, § 256

The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof between the ages of seven and twenty-one years.

Category I

Alaska

Alaska Const. art. VII, § 1

The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions.

Category I

Arizona

Ariz. Const. art. XI, § 1

The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system, which system shall include:

  1. Kindergarten schools.
  2. Common schools.
  3. High schools.
  4. Normal schools.
  5. Industrial schools.
  6. Universities, which shall include an agricultural college, a school of mines, and such other technical schools as may be essential, until such time as it may be deemed advisable to establish separate state institutions of such character.

Category I

Arkansas

Ark. Const. art. XIV, § 1

Intelligence and virtue being the safeguards of liberty and the bulwark of a free and good government, the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education. The specific intention of this amendment is to authorize that in addition to existing constitutional or statutory provisions the General Assembly and/or public school districts may spend public funds for the education of persons over twenty-one (21) years of age and under six (6) years of age, as may be provided by law, and no other interpretation shall be given to it.

Category II

California

Calif. Const. art. IX, §§ 1, 5

§ 1: A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.
§ 5: The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.

Category III

Colorado

Colo. Const. art. IX, § 2

The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously. One or more public schools shall be maintained in each school district within the state, at least three months in each year; any school district failing to have such school shall not be entitled to receive any portion of the school fund for that year.

Category II

Connecticut

Conn. Const. art. VIII, § 1

There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state. The general assembly shall implement this principle by appropriate legislation.

Category I

Delaware

Del. Const. art. X, § 1

The General Assembly shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and efficient system of free public schools, and may require by law that every child, not physically or mentally disabled, shall attend the public school, unless educated by other means.

Category II

Florida

Fla. Const. art. IX, § 1

The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.

Category IV

Georgia

Ga. Const. art. VIII, § 1, ¶ I

The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation, and the General Assembly may by general law provide for the establishment of education policies for such public education. The expense of other public education shall be provided for in such manner and in such amount as may be provided by law.

Category IV

Hawaii

Hawaii Const. art. X, § 1

The State shall provide for the establishment, support and control of a statewide system of public schools free from sectarian control, a state university, public libraries and such other educational institutions as may be deemed desirable, including physical facilities therefor.

Category I

Idaho

Idaho Const. art. IX, § 1

The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.

Category II

Illinois

Ill. Const. art. X, § 1

A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities. The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law. The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.

Category IV

Indiana

Ind. Const. art. VIII, § 1

Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.

Category III

Iowa

Iowa Const. art. IX, 2nd, §§ 1, 3

§ 1: The educational and school funds and lands shall be under the control and management of the general assembly of this state.
§ 3: The general assembly shall encourage, by all suitable means, the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.

Category III

Kansas

Kan. Const. art. VI, §§ 1, 6

§ 1: The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools, educational institutions and related activities which may be organized and changed in such manner as may be provided by law.
§ 6(b): The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. No tuition shall be charged for attendance at any public school to pupils required by law to attend such school, except such fees or supplemental charges as may be authorized by law. The legislature may authorize the state board of regents to establish tuition, fees and charges at institutions under its supervision.

Category I

Kentucky

Ky. Const. § 183

§ 183: The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State.
§ 186: All funds accruing to the school fund shall be used for the maintenance of the public schools of the Commonwealth, and for no other purpose, and the General Assembly shall by general law prescribe the manner of the distribution of the public school fund among the school districts and its use for public school purposes.

Category II

Louisiana

La. Const. art. VIII, §§ 1, 11 & 13

Preamble: The goal of the public educational system is to provide learning environments and experiences, at all stages of human development, that are humane, just, and designed to promote excellence in order that every individual may be afforded an equal opportunity to develop to his full potential.
§ 1: The legislature shall provide for the education of the people of the state and shall establish and maintain a public educational system.
§ 11: The legislature shall appropriate funds for the operating and administrative expenses of the state boards created by or pursuant to this Article.
§ 13: (B) Minimum Foundation Program. The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or its successor, shall annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools as well as to equitably allocate the funds to parish and city school systems. Such formula shall provide for a contribution by every city and parish school system. Prior to approval of the formula by the legislature, the legislature may return the formula adopted by the board to the board and may recommend to the board an amended formula for consideration by the board and submission to the legislature for approval. The legislature shall annually appropriate funds sufficient to fully fund the current cost to the state of such a program as determined by applying the approved formula in order to insure a minimum foundation of education in all public elementary and secondary schools. Neither the governor nor the legislature may reduce such appropriation, except that the governor may reduce such appropriation using means provided in the act containing the appropriation provided that any such reduction is consented to in writing by two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature. The funds appropriated shall be equitably allocated to parish and city school systems according to the formula as adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or its successor, and approved by the legislature prior to making the appropriation. Whenever the legislature fails to approve the formula most recently adopted by the board, or its successor, the last formula adopted by the board, or its successor, and approved by the legislature shall be used for the determination of the cost of the minimum foundation program and for the allocation of funds appropriated.

Category I

Maine

Maine Const. art. VIII, Pt. 1, § 1

A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools; and it shall further be their duty to encourage and suitably endow, from time to time, as the circumstances of the people may authorize, all academies, colleges and seminaries of learning within the State; provided, that no donation, grant or endowment shall at any time be made by the Legislature to any literary institution now established, or which may hereafter be established, unless, at the time of making such endowment, the Legislature of the State shall have the right to grant any further powers to alter, limit or restrain any of the powers vested in any such literary institution, as shall be judged necessary to promote the best interests thereof.

Category IV

Maryland

Md. Const. art. VIII, §§ 1, 3

§ 1: The General Assembly, at its First Session after the adoption of this Constitution, shall by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.
§ 3: The School Fund of the State shall be kept inviolate, and appropriated only to the purposes of Education.

Category II

Massachusetts

Mass. Const. Pt. 2, Ch. 5, § 2

Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.

Category III

Michigan

Mich. Const. art. 8, §§ 1, 2

§ 1: Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
§ 2: The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

Category IV

Minnesota

Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1

The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

Category II

Mississippi

Miss. Const. art. 8, §§ 201, 206 & 206A

§ 201: The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.
§ 206: There shall be a state common-school fund, to be taken from the General Fund in the State Treasury, which shall be used for the maintenance and support of the common schools. Any county or separate school district may levy an additional tax, as prescribed by general law, to maintain its schools. The state common-school fund shall be distributed among the several counties and separate school districts in proportion to the number of educable children in each, to be determined by data collected through the office of the State Superintendent of Education in the manner to be prescribed by law.
§ 206A: There is hereby created and established in the State Treasury a trust fund which may be used, as hereinafter provided, for the improvement of education within the State of Mississippi. There shall be deposited in such trust fund: (a) The state’s share of all oil severance taxes and gas severance taxes derived from oil and gas resources under state-owned lands or from severed state-owned minerals; (b) Any and all monies received by the state from the development, production and utilization of oil and gas resources under state-owned lands or from severed state-owned minerals, except for the following portions of such monies: (i) All mineral leasing revenues specifically reserved by general law in effect at the time of the ratification of this amendment for the following purposes: (A) management of a state leasing program; (B) clean-up, remedial or abatement actions involving pollution as a result of oil or gas exploration or production; (C) management or protection of state waters, land and wildlife; or (D) acquisition of additional waters and land; and (ii) Monies derived from sixteenth section lands and lands held in lieu thereof or from minerals severed from sixteenth section lands and lands held in lieu thereof; and (iii) Monies derived from lands or minerals administered in trust for any state institution of higher learning or administered therefor by the head of any such institution; (c) Any gift, donation, bequest, trust, grant, endowment or transfer of money or securities designated for said trust fund; and (d) All such monies from any other source whatsoever as the Legislature shall, in its discretion, so appropriate or shall, by general law, so direct. The principal of the trust fund shall remain inviolate and shall be invested as provided by general law. Interest and income derived from investment of the principal of the trust fund may be appropriated by the Legislature by a majority vote of the elected membership of each house of the Legislature and expended exclusively for the education of the elementary and secondary school students and/or vocational and technical training in this state.

Category I

Missouri

Mo. Const. art. IX, §§ 1(a), 3(a) & 3(b)

§ 1(a): A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this state within ages not in excess of twenty-one years as prescribed by law.
§ 3(a): All appropriations by the state for the support of free public schools and the income from the public school fund shall be paid at least annually and distributed according to law.
§ 3(b): In event the public school fund provided and set apart by law for the support of free public schools, shall be insufficient to sustain free schools at least eight months in every year in each school district of the state, the general assembly may provide for such deficiency; but in no case shall there be set apart less than twenty-five percent of the state revenue, exclusive of interest and sinking fund, to be applied annually to the support of the free public schools.

Category IV

Montana

Mont. Const. art. X, § 1

(1) It is the goal of the people to establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person. Equality of educational opportunity is guaranteed to each person of the state. (2) The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity. (3) The legislature shall provide a basic system of free quality public elementary and secondary schools. The legislature may provide such other educational institutions, public libraries, and educational programs as it deems desirable. It shall fund and distribute in an equitable manner to the school districts the state’s share of the cost of the basic elementary and secondary school system.

Category II

Nebraska

Neb. Const. art. VII, § 1

The Legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools of this state of all persons between the ages of five and twenty-one years. The Legislature may provide for the education of other persons in educational institutions owned and controlled by the state or a political subdivision thereof.

Category I

Nevada

Nev. Const. art. XI, §§ 1, 2 & 6

§ 1: The legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, literary, scientific, mining, mechanical, agricultural, and moral improvements….
§ 2: The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, … and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.
§ 3: 1. In addition to other means provided for the support and maintenance of said university and common schools, the legislature shall provide for their support and maintenance by direct legislative appropriation from the general fund, upon the presentation of budgets in the manner required by law. 2. During a regular session of the Legislature, before any other appropriation is enacted to fund a portion of the state budget for the next ensuing biennium, the Legislature shall enact one or more appropriations to provide the money the Legislature deems to be sufficient, when combined with the local money reasonably available for this purpose, to fund the operation of the public schools in the State for kindergarten through grade 12 for the next ensuing biennium for the population reasonably estimated for that biennium.

Category III

New Hampshire

N.H. Const. Pt. 2, art. LXXXIII

To cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries and public schools, to encourage private and public institutions, rewards, and immunities for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and economy, honesty and punctuality, sincerity, sobriety, and all social affections, and generous sentiments, among the people.

Category IV

New Jersey

N.J. Const. art. VIII, § 4, ¶¶ 1, 2

¶ 1: The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.
¶ 2: The fund for the support of free public schools, and all money, stock and other property, which may hereafter be appropriated for that purpose, or received into the treasury under the provisions of any law heretofore passed to augment the said fund, shall be securely invested, and remain a perpetual fund; and the income thereof, except so much as it may be judged expedient to apply to an increase of the capital, shall be annually appropriated to the support of free public schools, and for the equal benefit of all the people of the State; and it shall not be competent, except as hereinafter provided, for the Legislature to borrow, appropriate or use the said fund or any part thereof for any other purpose, under any pretense whatever. The bonds of any school district of this State, issued according to law, shall be proper and secure investments for the said fund and, in addition, said fund, including the income therefrom and any other moneys duly appropriated to the support of free public schools may be used in such manner as the Legislature may provide by law to secure the payment of the principal of or interest on bonds or notes issued for school purposes by counties, municipalities or school districts or for the payment or purchase of any such bonds or notes or any claims for interest thereon.

Category II

New Mexico

N.M. Const. art. XII, §§ 1, 4

§ 1: A uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to, all the children of school age in the state shall be established and maintained.
§ 4: All forfeitures, unless otherwise provided by law, and all fines collected under general laws; the net proceeds of property that may come to the state by escheat; the rentals of all school lands and other lands granted to the state, the disposition of which is not otherwise provided for by the terms of the grant or by act of congress shall constitute the current school fund of the state.

Category I

New York

N.Y. Const. art. XI, § 1

The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.

Category I

North Carolina

N.C. Const. art. IX, §§ 1, 2

§ 1: Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
§ 2: (1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students. (2) Local responsibility. The General Assembly may assign to units of local government such responsibility for the financial support of the free public schools as it may deem appropriate. The governing boards of units of local government with financial responsibility for public education may use local revenues to add to or supplement any public school or post-secondary school program.

Category I

North Dakota

N.D. Const. art. VIII, §§ 1–4

§ 1: A high degree of intelligence, patriotism, integrity and morality on the part of every voter in a government by the people being necessary in order to insure the continuance of that government and the prosperity and happiness of the people, the legislative assembly shall make provision for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools which shall be open to all children of the state of North Dakota and free from sectarian control. This legislative requirement shall be irrevocable without the consent of the United States and the people of North Dakota.
§ 2: The legislative assembly shall provide for a uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, beginning with the primary and extending through all grades up to and including schools of higher education, except that the legislative assembly may authorize tuition, fees and service charges to assist in the financing of public schools of higher education.
§ 3: In all schools instruction shall be given as far as practicable in those branches of knowledge that tend to impress upon the mind the vital importance of truthfulness, temperance, purity, public spirit, and respect for honest labor of every kind.
§ 4: The legislative assembly shall take such other steps as may be necessary to prevent illiteracy, secure a reasonable degree of uniformity in course of study, and to promote industrial, scientific, and agricultural improvements.

Category II

Ohio

Ohio Const. art. XI, § 2

The general assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State….

Category II

Oklahoma

Okla. Const. art. XIII, §§ 1, 1a

§ 1: The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.
§ 1a: The Legislature shall, by appropriate legislation, raise and appropriate funds for the annual support of the common schools of the State to the extent of forty-two ($42.00) dollars per capita based on total state-wide enrollment for the preceding school year. Such moneys shall be allocated to the various school districts in the manner and by a distributing agency to be designated by the Legislature; provided that nothing herein shall be construed as limiting any particular school district to the per capita amount specified herein, but the amount of state funds to which any school district may be entitled shall be determined by the distributing agency upon terms and conditions specified by the Legislature, and provided further that such funds shall be in addition to apportionments from the permanent school fund created by Article XI, Section 2, hereof.

Category I

Oregon

Ore. Const. art. VIII, §§ 3, 4 & 8

§ 3: The Legislative Assembly shall provide by law for the establishment of a uniform, and general system of Common schools.
§ 4: Provision shall be made by law for the distribution of the income of the common school fund among the several Counties of this state in proportion to the number of children resident therein between the ages, four and twenty years.
§ 8: (1) The Legislative Assembly shall appropriate in each biennium a sum of money sufficient to ensure that the state’s system of public education meets quality goals established by law, and publish a report that either demonstrates the appropriation is sufficient, or identifies the reasons for the insufficiency, its extent, and its impact on the ability of the state’s system of public education to meet those goals. (2) Consistent with such legal obligation as it may have to maintain substantial equity in state funding, the Legislative Assembly shall establish a system of Equalization Grants to eligible districts for each year in which the voters of such districts approve local option taxes as described in Article XI, section 11 (4)(a)(B) of this Constitution. The amount of such Grants and eligibility criteria shall be determined by the Legislative Assembly.

Category II

Pennsylvania

Pa. Const. art. III, § 14

The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

Category II

Rhode Island

R.I. R.I. Const. art. XII, §§ 1, 2

§ 1: The diffusion of knowledge, as well as of virtue among the people, being essential to the preservation of their rights and liberties, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to promote public schools and public libraries, and to adopt all means which it may deem necessary and proper to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education and public library services.
§ 2: The money which now is or which may hereafter be appropriated by law for the establishment of a permanent fund for the support of public schools, shall be securely invested and remain a perpetual fund for that purpose.

Category III

South Carolina

S.C. Const. art. XI, § 3

The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools open to all children in the State and shall establish, organize and support such other public institutions of learning, as may be desirable.

Category I

South Dakota

S.D. Const. art. VIII, §§ 1, 15

§ 1: The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.
§ 15: The Legislature shall make such provision by general taxation and by authorizing the school corporations to levy such additional taxes as with the income from the permanent school fund shall secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state. The Legislature is empowered to classify properties within school districts into separate classes for purposes of school taxation. Taxes shall be uniform on all property in the same class.

Category III

Tennessee

Tenn. Const. art. XI, § 12

The State of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.

Category II

Texas

Texas Const. Art. XII, §§ 1, 3 & 5

§ 1: A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.
§ 3: (a) One-fourth of the revenue derived from the State occupation taxes shall be set apart annually for the benefit of the public free schools. (b) It shall be the duty of the State Board of Education to set aside a sufficient amount of available funds to provide free text books for the use of children attending the public free schools of this State. (c) Should the taxation herein named be insufficient the deficit may be met by appropriation from the general funds of the State. (d) The Legislature may provide for the formation of school districts by general laws, and all such school districts may embrace parts of two or more counties. (e) The Legislature shall be authorized to pass laws for the assessment and collection of taxes in all school districts and for the management and control of the public school or schools of such districts, whether such districts are composed of territory wholly within a county or in parts of two or more counties, and the Legislature may authorize an additional ad valorem tax to be levied and collected within all school districts for the further maintenance of public free schools, and for the erection and equipment of school buildings therein; provided that a majority of the qualified voters of the district voting at an election to be held for that purpose, shall approve the tax.
§ 5: (a) The permanent school fund consists of all land appropriated for public schools by this constitution or the other laws of this state, other properties belonging to the permanent school fund, and all revenue derived from the land or other properties. The available school fund consists of the distributions made to it from the total return on all investment assets of the permanent school fund, the taxes authorized by this constitution or general law to be part of the available school fund, and appropriations made to the available school fund by the legislature. … (c) The available school fund shall be applied annually to the support of the public free schools. Except as provided by this section, the legislature may not enact a law appropriating any part of the permanent school fund or available school fund to any other purpose. … The available school fund shall be distributed to the several counties according to their scholastic population and applied in the manner provided by law.

Category II

Utah

Utah Const. art. 10, §§ 1, 2 & 5

§ 1: The Legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of the state’s education systems including: (a) a public education system, which shall be open to all children of the state; and (b) a higher education system. Both systems shall be free from sectarian control.
§ 2: The public education system shall include all public elementary and secondary schools and such other schools and programs as the Legislature may designate. The higher education system shall include all public universities and colleges and such other institutions and programs as the Legislature may designate. Public elementary and secondary schools shall be free, except the Legislature may authorize the imposition of fees in the secondary schools.
§ 5: … (3) There is established a Uniform School Fund which consists of: (a) money from the permanent State School Fund; (b) revenues appropriated by the Legislature; and (c) other revenues received by the Uniform School Fund under any other provision of law or by donation. (4) The Uniform School Fund shall be maintained and used for the support of the state’s public education system as defined in Article X, Section 2 of this constitution and apportioned as the Legislature shall provide.

Category I

Vermont

Vt. Ch. II, § 68

Laws for the encouragement of virtue and prevention of vice and immorality ought to be constantly kept in force, and duly executed; and a competent number of schools ought to be maintained in each town unless the general assembly permits other provisions for the convenient instruction of youth. All religious societies, or bodies of people that may be united or incorporated for the advancement of religion and learning, or for other pious and charitable purposes, shall be encouraged and protected in the enjoyment of the privileges, immunities, and estates, which they in justice ought to enjoy, under such regulations as the general assembly of this state shall direct.

Category I

Virginia

Va. Const. art. VIII, § 1, 2

§ 1: The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.
§ 2: Standards of quality for the several school divisions shall be determined and prescribed from time to time by the Board of Education, subject to revision only by the General Assembly. The General Assembly shall determine the manner in which funds are to be provided for the cost of maintaining an educational program meeting the prescribed standards of quality, and shall provide for the apportionment of the cost of such program between the Commonwealth and the local units of government comprising such school divisions. Each unit of local government shall provide its portion of such cost by local taxes or from other available funds.

Category II

Washington

Wash. Const. art. IX, § 1, 2

§ 1: It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.
§ 2: The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.

Category IV

West Virginia

W.Va. Const. art. 12, §§ 1, 5 & 12

§ 1: The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.
§ 5: The Legislature shall provide for the support of free schools by appropriating thereto the interest of the invested “School Fund,” the net proceeds of all forfeitures and fines accruing to this state under the laws thereof and by general taxation of persons and property or otherwise. It shall also provide for raising in each county or district, by the authority of the people thereof, such a proportion of the amount required for the support of free schools therein as shall be prescribed by general laws.
§ 12: The Legislature shall foster and encourage, moral, intellectual, scientific and agricultural improvement….

Category II

Wisconsin

Wis. Const. art. X, § 3

The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years….

Category II

Wyoming

Wyo. Const. art. 7, §§ 1, 8 & 9

§ 1: The legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a complete and uniform system of public instruction, embracing free elementary schools of every needed kind and grade, a university with such technical and professional departments as the public good may require and the means of the state allow, and such other institutions as may be necessary.
§ 8: Provision shall be made by general law for the equitable allocation of such income among all school districts in the state. But no appropriation shall be made from said fund to any district for the year in which a school has not been maintained for at least three (3) months….
§ 9: The legislature shall make such further provision by taxation or otherwise, as with the income arising from the general school fund will create and maintain a thorough and efficient system of public schools, adequate to the proper instruction of all youth of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, free of charge; and in view of such provision so made, the legislature shall require that every child of sufficient physical and mental ability shall attend a public school during the period between six and eighteen years for a time equivalent to three years, unless educated by other means.

Category III


Education Finance Litigation

Post Rodriguez, an estimated 46 states have undergone legal challenges to their school finance systems. This online presentation provides an interactive overview of education finance litigation. And, this online spreadsheet contains detailed information on the 170-plus cases addressing federal and state constitutional challenges to statewide education finance systems.

Education Finance Legislation

(Updated September 8, 2020)

Access an interactive database containing legislation addressing education finance. Please note:

  • The database covers years 2019 and 2020.
  • The database is still being population. It is not yet a comprehensive collection of education finance legislation.
  • Status updates for bills currently in the database occur weekly or more often.

Additional Resources

Intergovernmental Aid Formulas

Funding Special Education

Endnotes

[1] William E. Thro, The Role of Language of the State Education Clauses in School Finance Litigation, 79 Ed. Law Rep. 19 (1993).

[2] "However, little scholarship has been able to identify a relationship between the language of a state constitution's education clause and the outcome of education finance litigation in that state." (See Scott R. Bauries, Is There an Elephant in the Room?: Judicial Review of Educational Adequacy and the Separation of Powers in State Constitutions, 61 Ala. L. Rev. 701, 712–13 (2010).)

[3] The following comes from the Alabama Code Commissioner's Notes:

The question of the status of Section 256 is complex and controversial.

Clearly the last sentence of the original Section 256 providing for racially segregated schools was unconstitutional under Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

In response to Brown, Amendment 111 was adopted in 1956. Amendment 111 revised a number of separate provisions of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, including an amendment of Section 256. The amended Section 256 eliminated the requirement of racially segregated schools, but at the same time eliminated the requirement of the original Section 256 that the Legislature “establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof.” Instead, Section 256, as amended by Amendment 111, declared that nothing in the Alabama Constitution “shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.” In the so called “equity funding” litigation (Alabama Coalition for Equity, et al. v. Hunt, CV-90-883; see Opinion of the Justices No. 333, 624 So.2d 107 (1993)), the trial court ruled that the racially discriminatory motivations underlying Amendment 111 made the amendment of Section 256 unconstitutional; and the requirement of original Section 256 that the Legislature “establish, organize and maintain a liberal system of public schools for the benefit of the children of the state” survived as a constitutional mandate on the state. While various issues arising in the litigation were appealed (see Pinto Alabama Coalition for Equity, 662 So.2d 894 (1993); Opinion of the Justices No. 333, supra; Ex parte James, 713 So.2d 869 (1997); and Ex parte James, 836 So.2d 813 (2002)), there was no appeal of the liability portion of the decision of the trial court. Since the trial court is not a court of last resort for purposes of Section 29-7-9(a)(6), Section 256, as amended by Amendment 111, is set forth without change.

Ala. Const. Amend. No. 111 language available here.