ARTICLE SUMMARIZES 50 YEAR HISTORY OF STATE COURT SCHOOL FUNDING LITIGATIONS
Opening a special issue of the Education Law & Policy Review that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Serrano v. Priest, the 1971 California Supreme Court decision that inspired many other state courts to take on school funding litigations, Michael A. Rebell, Executive Director of the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote an article that provides a detailed overview of the litigations that have occurred in 48 of the 50 states over this time period. It also offers an analysis of the proper role of the courts in education policy cases, based on this 50-year history and some thoughts about possible future litigation trends in this area. Rebell indicated that this article was intended to update his 2009 book, Courts and Kids: Pursuing Educational Equity through the State Courts.
Rebell summarized the overall developments in state court school funding litigations over the past half century as follows:
Reviewing the involvement of state highest courts in school funding cases since the time of Serrano 50 years ago, two salient trends stand out. First, plaintiffs have been remarkably successful: overall, final decisions of the courts in 31 states have declared that students have an enforceable right to education under their state constitutions, and courts in 24 of these states have issued orders to enforce those rights. These decisions have been issued in many predominantly urban states and in many largely rural states, in many “red” states and in many “blue” states. At the same time, however, fourteen state courts have declared that these issues are not justiciable, and five highest courts have not yet opined on the subject.
Overall, this means that adequacy provisions are currently enforceable in 62% of the states (69% of the states that have ruled on the issue), and that in the majority of the states (53%) courts have issued rulings to enforce those rights. Moreover, even after the substantial reduction in available government revenues that occurred in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, the vast majority of these courts have continued to enforce students’ constitutional rights, as plaintiffs have prevailed in 89% of the follow-up and compliance cases that have been issued since that time.
On the other hand, it is also true that in recent years, the pace of plaintiff victories has slowed, and the courts have tended to exhibit more caution in confronting state legislatures at the remedial stages of the litigations and in the follow-up and compliance cases.