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.
Rodriguez effectively removed the constitutional burden for providing public education away from the states and placed it squarely on the federal government.
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.
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.
Education Finance Litigation in the States
Post Rodriguez, an estimated 45 states have undergone legal challenges to their school finance systems. Information on the most recent litigation is below.
As of December 2014, NCSL has identified at least seven states in the midst of education finance litigation alleging state school finance systems or the foundation level funding for those systems violates their states' respective constitutional education clauses:
Post Rodriguez, an estimated _______ states have undergone legal challenges to their school finance systems.
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. In March 2014, the Supreme Court of Kansas ordered the Legislature to remedy inequities in the school finance system but refrained from opining on the adequacy issue. The following May, the Legislature adding $129 million into the finance system targeted at property poor districts, thus fulfilling its court-ordered equity obligation. Then, on December 30, 2014, a three-judge panel ruled the finance system is inadequately funded. More to come.
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.
Maisto v. State of New York (previously named Hussein v. State) – Trial date set for January 21, 2015. Small cities initiated this action 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).
New Yorkers for Students' Educ. Rights (NYSER) v. The State of New York – Plaintiffs filed a complaint in February 2014 alleging the state failed to comply with an order resulting from Campaign for Fiscal Equity Inc. v. State of New York, 8 N.Y.3d 14 (2006) (CFE III) to increase funding for New York City schools. On November 18, 2014, a trial judged dismissed the state's motion to dismiss.
In ______________________________________________the Legislature adding $129 million into the finance system targeted at property poor districts, thus fulfilling its court-ordered equity obligation.
- Abbott v. Burke
- Gannon v. State of Kansas
- Maisto v. State of New York
- Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell,
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
Since 2012, at least seven 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.
Since 2012, at least ___________ states have witnessed resolutions to school finance legal challenges.
Lobato v. State of Colorado, 304 P.3d 1132 (Colo. 2013) – Trial court initially ruled for plaintiffs in December 2011. In late May 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the trial court's ruling, handing a stinging legal defeat to the plaintiffs. The opinion reads in part:
The public school financing system enacted by the General Assembly complies with the Colorado Constitution. … It is rationally related to the constitutional mandate that the General Assembly provide a ‘thorough and uniform’ system of public education. … It also affords local school districts control over locally-raised funds and therefore over ‘instruction in the public schools.’ … As such, the trial court erred when it declared the public school financing system unconstitutional. We accordingly reverse.
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, 749 S.E.2d 451 (N.C. 2013) – In September 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. However, almost a year later in November 2013, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the issues on appeal from the September 2012 ruling were made moot following legislative amendments to North Carolina’s pre-kindergarten program.
Woonsocket Sch. Comm. v. Chafee, 89 A.3d 778 (R.I. 2014) – In May, 2014, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island upheld a trial court decision granting the state's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint citing separation of powers concerns and legal precedent that grant the General Assembly broad plenary power over financing public education.
Abbeville Co. Sch. Dist. v. State of South Carolina – In November 2014, over two years after hearing oral arguments in the case, the Supreme Court of South Carolina held for the plaintiffs, but added:
[T]he winner here is not the Plaintiff Districts, but fittingly, the students in those districts and throughout the State. Further, there is no loser. The substance of our finding today places before the parties a new opportunity, resting solidly on this Court's precedent, but leaning forward towards a conversation unencumbered by blame. The Defendants and the Plaintiff Districts must identify the problems facing students in the Plaintiff Districts, and can solve those problems through cooperatively designing a strategy to address critical concerns and cure the constitutional deficiency evident in this case.
State Constitution Education Clauses
Every state constitution contains a clause that requires the state maintain a system of free public education. Legal scholarship identifies four categories of education clauses in state constitutions that impose a duty on legislatures to provide for public schools. The categories range from I to IV, from weakest to strongest, in terms of the strength of the fiduciary duty imposed on the state, particularly the state legislature, to provide public education. Additional legal scholarship has found no correlation between the language of these clauses and litigation outcomes.
Prof. Thro's definition:
“merely mandate a system of free public schools”
“mandate that the system of public schools meet a certain minimum standard of quality, such as ‘thorough and efficient’”
“distinguished from the Category I and II clauses by both a ‘stronger and more specific education mandate’ and ‘purposive preambles’”
“impose the greatest obligation on the state legislature…; they provide that education is ‘fundamental,’ ‘primary,’ or ‘paramount’”
Example of Constitutional Language:
The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated. (Okla. Const. art. XIII, § 1)
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. (Pa. Const. art. III, § 14)
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. (S.D. Const. art. VIII, § 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. (Wash. Const. art. IX, § 1)
Ala. Const. art. XIV, § 256; Alaska Const. art. VII, § 1; Ariz. Const. art. XI, § 1; Conn. Const. art. VIII, § 1; Haw. Const. art. X, § 1; Kan. Const. art. VI, § 1; La. Const. art. VIII, § 1; Miss. Const. Art. 8, § 201; Neb. Const. art. VII, § 1; N.M. Const. art. XII, § 1; N.Y. Const. art. XI, § 1; N.C. Const. art. IX, § 2; Okla. Const. art. XIII, § 1; S.C. Const. art. XI, § 3; Utah Const. art. X, § 1; and Vt. Const. ch. 2, § 68.
Ark. Const. art. XIV, § 1; Colo. Const. art. IX, § 2; Del. Const. art. X, § 1; Idaho Const. art. IX, § 1; Ky. Const. § 183; Md. Const. art. VIII, § 1; Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1; Mont. Const. art. X, § 1; N.J. Const. art. VIII, § 4; N.D. Const. art. VIII, § 1; Ohio Const. art. VI, § 3; Or. Const. art. VIII, § 3; Pa. Const. art. III, § 14; Tenn. Const. art. XI, § 12; Tex. Const. art. VII, § 1; Va. Const. art. VIII, § 1; W.Va. Const. art. XII, § 1; and Wis. Const. art. X, § 3
Cal. Const. art. IX, § 1; Ind. Const. art. VIII, § 1; Iowa Const. art. XI, 2d, §3 ; Mass. Const. pt. 2, ch. 5, § 2; Nev. Const. art. XI, § 2; R.I. Const. art. XII, § 1; S.D. Const. art. VIII, § 1; and Wyo. Const. art. VII, § 1
How many states fall into category I and use this type of example of Constitutional Language: The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated. (Okla. Const. art. XIII, § 1)