Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
School Money Trials

School Money Trials: The Legal Pursuit of Educational Adequacy

Martin R. West
Paul E. Peterson
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 373
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    School Money Trials
    Book Description:

    "Adequacy lawsuits" have emerged as an alternative strategy in pursuit of improved public education in America. Plaintiffs allege insufficient resources to provide students with the quality of education promised in their state's constitution, hoping the courts will step in and order the state to increase its level of aid. Since 1980, 45 of the 50 states have faced such suits. How pervasive -and effective -is this trend? What are its ramifications, at the school district level and on a broader scope? This important new book addresses these questions. The contributors consider the legal theory behind adequacy lawsuits, examining how the education clauses in state constitutions have been reinterpreted. According to James Guthrie and Matthew Springer, this trend has more fully politicized the process of cost modeling in school finance. Frederick Hess looks at the politics of adequacy implementation. Research by Christopher Berry of Harvard finds that the most significant result of the movement has not resulted in broad-ranging changes in school funding. How the No Child Left Behind Act and adequacy lawsuits impact one another is an especially interesting question, as addressed by Andrew Rudalevige and Michael Heise. This is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the adequacy lawsuit strategy, a topic of increasing importance in a controversial area of public policy that touches virtually all Americans. It will be of interest to readers engaged in education policy discussions and those concerned about the power of the courts to make policy rather than simply to enforce it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-7032-9
    Subjects: Education, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 The Adequacy Lawsuit: A Critical Appraisal
    (pp. 1-22)

    Public education has long been a core government function in the United States—“perhaps the most important function,” according to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s landmark 1954 opinion inBrownv.Board of Education. Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, Warren noted that “compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society.”¹ The depth of the nation’s educational commitment is evident also in its state constitutions, forty-nine of which mention the government’s responsibility in this area.²

    Yet it is increasingly clear that the American school system is...

  5. PART ONE Rationale

    • 2 Adding Adequacy to Equity
      (pp. 25-54)

      The law of school finance reform is conventionally described as consisting of three “waves,” each associated with a distinctive legal theory.¹ In the first wave, which began in the late 1960s, plaintiffs relied on the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution to challenge the disparities in perpupil expenditures among school districts within a state attributable to the state’s reliance on the local property tax to fund elementary and secondary education. That wave ebbed abruptly in 1973 when, inSan Antonio Independent School Districtv.Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the equal protection theory.² It was, however, immediately followed...

    • 3 Reinterpreting the Education Clauses in State Constitutions
      (pp. 55-74)

      In the past decade, a number of state courts have found a new “fundamental right” to education in centuries-old provisions in state constitutions. Those courts have then used that fundamental right determination to establish the level of educational funding that, from their particular point of view, is required to be constitutionally “adequate” and even to mandate the content of the curriculum itself. In the process they have ignored considered legislative judgments to the contrary. In this chapter, I explore the historical understanding of the actual language of the state constitutional provisions on which the new state court decisions rest, concluding...

  6. PART TWO Evidence

    • 4 The Alchemy of “Costing Out” an Adequate Education
      (pp. 77-101)

      Holding schools accountable for student performance has highlighted a simple fact: many students are not achieving at desired levels. Significant achievement gaps by race and income persist, and concerns abound about whether most schools are on the path to improving the achievement of all students. While people of diverse perspectives have offered reform plans and solutions, a prevailing argument is that the schools lack sufficient resources to support academic success, and a variety of parties have sued states to compel them to provide greater funding for education. A key question in those lawsuits—“What will it cost to improve student...

    • 5 The Politicization of the School Finance Legal Process
      (pp. 102-130)

      Contemporary notions of educational finance adequacy have not sprungab initiofrom the brow of Zeus, nor do they appear to be simply the latest incremental phase in an evolutionary sequence of technical developments in public finance. Rather, twenty-first-century legal and public finance concerns regarding the adequacy of education finance have roots reaching far back into the dynamics of the twentieth-century distribution of education finance.

      Education finance practices, at least early- to mid-twentieth-century versions, were the province of a few green-eyeshade technical experts. Generally, these accounting experts were consigned to remote alcoves of state education departments and were invisible except...

    • 6 Is Teacher Pay “Adequate”?
      (pp. 131-156)

      Teacher pay plays a major role in school finance lawsuits. Total expenditures for public school K–12 instructional staff (primarily teachers) totaled $205 billion for the 2001–02 school year, or 56 percent of current school spending. Plaintiffs typically claim that these outlays are not sufficient to recruit teachers who can deliver constitutionally mandated levels of educational services. For example, in a recent case,Campaign for Fiscal Equityv.State, the plaintiffs successfully argued that because teacher pay schedules in New York City were well below those in the wealthier suburban counties such as Westchester or Nassau it was not...

  7. PART THREE Impacts

    • 7 Adequacy Judgments and School Reform
      (pp. 159-194)

      Adequacy cases are not narrow, legal disputes. Rather, given how difficult it is to prove that a state’s education system is legally “inadequate” or “inefficient” by a clear statutory standard, adequacy suits argue that a state’s educational performance is offensive in light of its self-proclaimed constitutional commitments. The adequacy strategy presumes that most elected officials are comfortable with a status quo that provides reasonably effective schools for the suburban majority, while depriving politically weak, poor, and disproportionately minority populations of equal educational opportunity.

      Adequacy suits seek to stop legislators from regarding K–12 education as one state service competing for...

    • 8 The Non-Implementation of New York’s Adequacy Judgment
      (pp. 195-212)

      For as long as newspapers have been cranking out front pages, there has been a certain pressure on those who write the “first draft of history” to publish accounts of verifiable happenings. Nearly every headline that has ever been written implies that some sort of action has occurred: a hurricane ripped through the Gulf Coast, a fire blazed its way through an apartment building, an election was held in which voters selected one person over another to lead a community. Very rarely are consumers of news media treated to accounts of equally verifiable non-happenings. Not only does the proverbial tree...

    • 9 The Impact of School Finance Judgments on State Fiscal Policy
      (pp. 213-240)

      Beginning with california’sSerranov.Priestin 1971, the constitutionality of school finance systems in U.S. states has been under attack for nearly thirty-five years.¹ During this time, thirty-seven states have had their system of education funding challenged on constitutional grounds. In twenty-five of these states, the system has been ruled unconstitutional in one or more court challenges. Taken together, these school finance judgments represent perhaps the most important reform movement in American public education since 1954, whenBrownv.Board of Educationended racial segregation in schools.²

      WithRosev.Council for Better Educationin Kentucky in 1989, challenges...

  8. PART FOUR Predictions

    • 10 Adequacy, Accountability, and the Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act
      (pp. 243-261)

      After the supreme Court held in 1973 that education was not a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, the battle shifted to the states. Since then, forty-five states have faced lawsuits charging that their funding levels and formulas for education failed to meet their own constitution’s commitment to their children. These efforts, aimed first at fiscal equity and then at educational “adequacy,” continue apace: twenty-four were pending at wildly different stages of completion as of February 2006. In the aggregate, they represent a steady, but relatively stealthy, brand of national education reform.¹

      At the same time, with much more fanfare,...

    • 11 Adequacy Litigation in an Era of Accountability
      (pp. 262-277)

      America’s quest for greater equal educational opportunity—an extension of the nation’s historic drive for greater racial equality—presently involves a persistent push for large sums of money. State court decisions ordering dramatic increases in spending on education in a steadily growing number of states reflect a multi-decade nationwide litigation campaign designed to enlist the courts’ assistance in extracting additional resources for public schools. The adequacy claims that constitute the most recent and aggressive line of attack in that campaign now occupy a central position in the discourse on education policy and school reform.

      Adequacy litigation represents the latest iteration...

    • 12 The Winning Defense in Massachusetts
      (pp. 278-304)

      On february 15, 2005, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found in favor of the commonwealth in theHancockschool adequacy case.¹ In so doing, the court lifted its 1993 finding of constitutional violation and decisively terminated twenty-seven years of litigation. The court’s decision to “dispose of the case in its entirety”² was a stunning reversal of the trial judge’s conclusion, and it bucked the trend of plaintiff victories in adequacy lawsuits nationwide. It was a case that had been closely watched by leaders of the adequacy movement, who visited the state repeatedly, viewed it as “the advance wave of...

  9. PART FIVE Reflections

    • 13 The Uncertain Future of Adequacy Remedies
      (pp. 307-321)

      More than a century ago, one of the leading lights of American law penned these simple words: “The life of the law has been experience, not logic.”¹ That is true especially in the arena of education litigation, and in particular in the nettlesome question of remedies. My thesis is equally simple, but not nearly so elegant as Holmes’s insight: When responding to adequacy petitions, the judiciary is well advised to be mindful of the experience of the last half-century in education litigation. That experience, at the dawn of the Roberts era in this nation’s constitutional law, counsels caution and humility...

    • 14 Adequacy Litigation and the Separation of Powers
      (pp. 322-344)

      A substantive distinction between equity and adequacy in school finance litigation is often hard to detect. Pure equity cases can occur in the new era of adequacy, as in Vermont inBrighamv.State(1997). And cases nominally fought on grounds of adequacy—as, for example, in Kansas inMontoyv.State(2005)—look more and more like equity cases as one plumbs arguments and remedies. Yet we argue that there are important differences between the two and that those differences are essentially political. Adequacy cases have enjoyed greater success in the courts because they mobilize more support and less...

  10. APPENDIX: Significant School Finance Judgments, 1971–2005
    (pp. 345-358)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 359-360)
  12. Index
    (pp. 361-374)