Courthouses vs. Statehouses?

Just over twenty years ago, the Kentucky Supreme Court declared the commonwealth’s primary and secondary public-education finance system-indeed, the entire system of primary and secondary public education in Kentucky-unconstitutional under the “common schools” clause of the education article in Kentucky’s constitution. That case has been widely cited as having ushered in the “adequacy” movement in school-finance litigation and reform, in which those challenging state school-funding schemes argue that the state has failed to ensure that students are provided an adequate education guaranteed by their state constitutions. Since the Rose decision in Kentucky, some thirty-three school-finance lawsuits have reached final decisions in thirty-one states. For plaintiffs, the campaign has been relatively successful in court, as school-funding schemes in twenty-two states have been declared unconstitutional. Recently, however, a few courts seem to be taking a more cautious approach, either declining to become embroiled in school-finance lawsuits or declaring the school-finance systems constitutional and relinquishing jurisdiction. Yet the pace of litigation appears unabated. In light of the overall success of the adequacy movement in court, the wariness with which some courts have begun to approach the matter, and the continued press for school reform through the courts, it is fair to say that the adequacy-finance-litigation movement has matured and it is time to take stock of it. Two recent books-Eric Hanushek and Al Lindseth’s Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses and Michael Rebell’s Courts & Kids-do just that. And they reach very different conclusions (at least on the face of it).