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School Money Trials

The Legal Pursuit of Educational Adequacy

Edited by Martin R. West and Paul E. Peterson

Publication Year: 2007

“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.

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vi-ix

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pp. ix-x

All but one of the chapters in this volume were originally presented in October 2005 at a conference entitled “The Adequacy Lawsuit,” which was held by the Kennedy School of Government’s Program on Education Policy and Governance. The exception, chapter 5, by Matthew Springer and James Guthrie, is based on Guthrie’s remarks as a discussant at the event. Partial funding for the conference and this volume was provided by the Lynde and...

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Chapter 1: The Adequacy Lawsuit: A Critical Appraisal

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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 in Brown v. 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 demo-...

Part I: Rationale

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pp. 23-24

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Chapter 2: Adding Adequacy to Equity

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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 per-pupil expenditures among school districts within a state attributable to the state’s reliance on the local property tax to fund elementary and secondary ed-...

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Chapter 3: Reinterpreting the Education Clauses in State Constitutions

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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...

Part II: Evidence

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pp. 75-76

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Chapter 4: The Alchemy of "Costing Out" an Adequate Education

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pp. 77-101

Holding schools accountable for student performance has high-lighted 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...

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Chapter 5: The Politicization of the School Finance Legal Process

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pp. 102-130

Contemporary notions of educational finance adequacy have not sprung ab initio from 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...

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Chapter 6: Is Teacher Pay "Adequate"?

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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...

Part III: Impacts

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pp. 157-158

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Chapter 7: Adequacy Judgments and School Reform

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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...

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Chapter 8: The Non-Implementation of New York's Adequacy Judgment

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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...

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Chapter 9: The Impact of School Finance Judgments on State Fiscal Policy

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pp. 213-240

Beginning with California’s Serrano v. Priest in 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...

Part IV: Predictions

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pp. 241-242

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Chapter 10: Adequacy, Accountability, and the Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act

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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...

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Chapter 11: Adequacy Litigation in an Era of Accountability

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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...

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Chapter 12: The Winning Defense in Massachusetts

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pp. 278-304

On February 15, 2005, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found in favor of the commonwealth in the Hancock school 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...

Part V: Reflections

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pp. 305-306

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Chapter 13: The Uncertain Future of Adequacy Remedies

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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...

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Chapter 14: Adequacy Litigation and the Separation of Powers

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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 in Brigham v. State (1997). And cases nominally fought on grounds of adequacy—as, for example, in Kansas in Montoy v. State (2005)—look more and more like equity cases as one plumbs arguments and remedies. Yet we argue that there are important differences...

Appendix: Significant School Finance Judgments, 1971-2005

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pp. 345-358


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pp. 359-360


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pp. 361-374

E-ISBN-13: 9780815770329
E-ISBN-10: 0815770324
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815770312
Print-ISBN-10: 0815770316

Page Count: 385
Publication Year: 2007