Education and Equality
This article discusses various lawsuits filed as advocates try to advance the cause of equal funding for education in the U. S. Demetrio Rodriguez began his fight for reform in 1969 as the chief plaintiff in a suit against the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas. In that year, he and a group of parents filed suit to protest the lack of funding for the schools their children attended. Appealing the decision in favor of the district, they took their case to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1973.
The case became a rallying point for school reform across the country. In the ears following the filing of the suit, their battle cry is a simple one: the inequalities in funding between public school systems must be eliminated if quality education for all is to be guaranteed. Lawsuits filed throughout the U. S. are meeting with a margin of success as they try to advance the cause of equal funding for education. Charging that states fail to provide a school system that offers proper instruction, the suits are forcing state governments to reconsider public school funding.
Education and Equality Essay Example
While Ohio faces a complete overhaul of the school funding system, other states face the challenge of apital funding for the construction of new schools. The most visible element of the issue, have become the focus of many court battles, most notably that of Arizona. Demetrio Rodriguez sits in his San Antonio, Texas, nome surrounded by memories. Certificates and photos chart the 25 years Rodriguez has spent fighting the cause of school finance reform.
From state capitols to popular talk shows, he has become a strong voice behind the movement to improve the nation’s schools. Rodriguez began his fght for reform in 1969 as the chief plaintiff in a suit against the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio. In that year, he and a group of parents filed suit to protest the lack of funding for the schools their children attended. Appealing the decision in favor of the district, they took their case to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1973. In San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.
S. 1 (1973), the court ruled in a 5-4 decision that education was not a fundamental right under the federal constitution and that students did not have the right to attend schools funded on the same level as a nearby wealthier district. The case became a rallying point for school reform across the country. In the years following Rodriguez, parents and advocates have filed suit in over 30 states. Their battle cry is a simple one: The inequalities in funding between public school systems must be eliminated if quality education for all is to be guaranteed.
Gains have been made. Litigation in Rodriguez’s home state of Texas prompted the creation of “Robin Hood” laws that reallocate funding from higher to lower income school districts. But change is hard to notice at the Edgewood school located across the street from Rodriguez’s home. “The kids who attend school in my district still have classrooms in portable uildings,” he said. “Many times teachers are forced to buy crayons and other supplies out of their own pockets. ” Rodriguez added that while conditions have changed, great disparities still exist. These kids have an improved opportunity to get a proper education, but we have a long way to go. ” Currently in the state of Texas a $20,000 gap exists in the amount of funding per classroom between the richest and poorest school districts. The Robin Hood laws, which have helped create some gains, are now threatened with elimination by a tax bill being considered in the state legislature. Indeed, Rodriguez, now a grandfather, still has a long way to go in his fght for change. “l have great hopes for my grandchildren,” he said. But we are still going to have to come up with solutions for these issues if we want to ensure their future. ” The fght to ensure such a future is gaining support from distinct sectors of American society. From Arizona to New Jersey, groups including attorneys, business representatives and teachers are Joining forces. Like Rodriguez, many are turning to the state courts in an effort create change in their communities. Decisions for Change Lawsuits filed throughout the United States are meeting with a margin of success as they try to advance the cause of equal funding for education.
Charging that states fail to provide a school system that offers proper instruction, the suits are forcing state governments to reconsider public school funding. In Abbott v. Burke, M-622-96, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided in May that the legislature must close existing gaps between the poorest and richest school districts in the state by September of this year. The 5 to 1 decision is a final win for a court battle that began in 1985. David Sciarra, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the suit challenged existing legislation that leaves a 000 per pupil gap in tunding. Not only do the current laws not eliminate the gap, but they actually allow it to grow in future budgets,” he said. Under the present regulation, the urban districts will only be given funding to maintain a foundation level while suburban districts will be allowed to grow. “The disparities will actually remain and widen,” he continued. The decision ordered New Jersey to provide funding for future growth over foundation levels. In addition, it andated that poor districts be provided funding for supplemental programs.
Supplemental programs, according to Sciarra, will help bring students up to the levels of their counterparts in wealthier districts. “We are not satisfied with a 10 percent gap,” he commented. “We want to get funding to a point where schools are comparable in terms of programs and facilities available. ” While New Jersey attempts to close the final gap, other states continue to follow their lead. In a similar decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled in March of this year that the current system of state funding was unconstitutional.
The 4-3 decision in DeRolph v. State of Ohio, 78 Ohio State 3d 193, stated that the system violated the state constitution by not providing a “thorough and efficient system of common schools. ” It overruled a previous 1979 decision that ruled that the funding system was constitutional. According to the majority opinion, the allocation formula and other school funding factors have caused or permitted vast wealth disparities among schools, depriving students in 500 public school districts of high quality educational opportunities.
Nicholas Pittner, chief counsel for the plaintiff, noted the circumstances surrounding he case had a great impact on the decision. “Some of these schools are extremely dark and dangerous,” he said. “The inadequacies reached such an extent that they were impressive enough to sway the decision of the court. ” The court ruled that the state has a year to come up with a new system to fund the education of Ohio’s 1. 8 million students. The remedy for the now unconstitutional system rests with a committee consisting of the governor, members of the state legislature, the state superintendent of public instruction and the budget director.
Experts in the case say they expect some form of action on the issue this fall. Rick Dickinson, general counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association, said over reliance on property taxes was cited by the court as a contributing factor to the failure of the system. “Local property taxes could be part of the new funding system, but not the total source of revenue,” he explained. While Ohio faces a complete overhaul of the school funding system, other states face the challenge of capital funding for the construction of new schools.
The most visible element of the issue, old and poorly maintained buildings, have become the focus of many court battles, most notably that of Arizona. After three years of litigation, the state faces its fourth suit in a search to fund the replacement of aging school buildings. Still lacking basic facilities, many schools in Arizona’s poor districts require major renovations to bring them up to code. A 1994 decision from the Arizona Supreme Court ruled the state’s funding formula unconstitutional. In Roosevelt v Bishop, 877 P. d 806 (1994), the court ruled the state funding formula unconstitutional and mandated that the state government come up with a new formula. Later decisions gave the state a deadline of the summer of 1998 to resolve the issue. Plaintiffs say $1 billion will be needed. The legislature has offered $370 million over the next 10 years and $32 million in perpetuity to poor school districts. Fite Symington nas as ed k the courts to rule the otter sufficient to resolve the issue. Opponents contend the amount will not begin to keep up with growth in the state’s schools.
Tim Hogan, attorney representing 72 school districts named as plaintiffs, said the offer does not come close to complying with the decision. “Thirty million dollars builds about 4 schools a year in Arizona,” he explained. “The offer is being contested because it still has a heavy reliance on roperty tax and only adds funding to bottom end schools. ” Hogan said if the state government fails to distribute money to the schools by the deadline of next summer, kids will be the big losers. “What is disappointing to me is that our willingness to cooperate in this effort has not led to complete reform,” he added.
While Hogan hopes the court turns down the request for approval, representatives from the governor’s office say the current offer satisfies the court’s decision. C. Diane Bishop, former Arizona superintendent of public instruction and now an adviser to Symington, said the current offer combined with a cap on spending for high wealth districts will bring disparities down toa satisfactory level. “Equality was not an issue in the decision,” she added. “A solution where some disparities still exists is acceptable according to the ruling. As the State of Arizona hammers out the resolution to its school finance problem, the rest of the nation looks on with both fear and excitement. The uncharted territory of school finance reform causes activists and bureaucrats alike to shudder as they attempt to redesign systems that have been in lace for decades. And as many find out, victory in the courts is followed by the lengthy and sometimes defeating process of policy-making. Solutions for Today At the center of such policy-making lies the inescapable definition of standards. At what level do states have to fund education to make it “efficient”?
How are such levels determined? John Augenblick, a Denver consultant who has worked in school finance system reform for the past 20 years, said the standards that work the best focus on the needs of students instead of the amount of money available to fund education. Foundation levels are typically politically determined based on funding available,” he continued. “States need to develop target levels with more information than available revenue. ” Augenblick said more states are setting objectives for education rather than setting goals based on resources available. We see states setting objectives and creating measurement systems to see if goals are being met,” he said. “Then funding is sought based on meeting those goals. ” Sighting recent school reform legislation in Mississippi, Augenblick said that state’s success lies in the trategy pursued in defining standards. “Mississippi’s goal was to have all school districts accredited at the highest levels based on a series of outcomes,” Augenblick continued. “The funding spent on students in districts that were achieving these levels were then used in developing the standards for the rest of the state. He said while there is much work left to be done, the future of school financing does hold promise. “There has been improvement and states are now building systems that are standing up in the courts,” Augenblick added. One of the states he said provides the ost secure example of school finance reform is Kentucky. In Council for Better Education v. collins, NO. 85-Cl-1759, slip op. at 11 (Franklin cty. Ct. , KY. May 31, 1988), the Kentucky Supreme Court not only ruled the school funding system unconstitutional, but went on to declare the entire state school system unconstitutional.
Chiet Justice Robert Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion in the case, said the evidence compelled the court to go beyond the funding issue. “Although the original lawsuit dealt only with financial inequity, it became obvious that the whole system needed reform,” he said. Indeed, the evidence was compelling. At the time of the case, Kentucky ranked 50th in the nation in adult literacy and high school completion, 49th in the number of four-year college graduates and 48th in spending on elementary education.
In 1990 the state passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA). Since then the state has completely revamped its methods of instruction. The results hold promise. Teachers’ salaries have increased 28 percent statewide. According to state records, student performance in reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies increased 9 percent between 1992 and 1994. “It is going to take more than eight or nine years to undo what it took 100 years to build,” Justice Stevens added. “But the system is a great deal better than it was. Kentucky legislators said the 22 percent increase in taxes necessary to pay for KERA was accepted by Kentuckians because of the seriousness of the disparities. Michael Maloney, a former Kentucky legislator involved in KERA, said while there was some objection to the bill when it was being considered, the majority of the state viewed it as necessary. “No legislator who voted or the tax increase was defeated on that issue in the next election,” he said. “As long as the voters knew that the money was going to public education, they were for it. Jack Moreland, former superintendent of the Dayton Kentucky Independent School District, said the state now has a clear sense of where the education system will be heading. “We have a defined twenty-year road map which sets precise goals and lays out how the goals will be reached,” he explained. Those familiar with KERA caution that the full impact will not be felt until an entire group of students start and finish nder the program. But if the initial information is any indication, the state’s reform package is achieving change other states may grow to envy.
While the Kentucky solution shows the possibilities of education finance reform, the current situation in states like Colorado shows Just how far finance reform has yet to go. Rapid growth in the state has brought over 100,000 new students into Colorado, while a lack of increased funding has caused per-pupil expenditures to drop. Colorado Bill H. C. R. 1004 makes it difficult to increase funding in the state’s school districts. A cap rohibits the legislature from raising spending more than six percent annually. This makes it impossible for schools to keep up with the growth in enrollment and inflation.
Phil Fox, associate director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said the current situation will drive the quality of education down in a time when the economy is flourishing. “We are choking on our own success,” he continued. “The growth is going to make schools increasingly dependent on the state for funding at a time when the legislature is limiting what they can do for students. ” As the state egislature struggles to find a solution, few see one on the horizon. A proposal to end school reliance on property taxes failed to win approval from the legislature in the first session of 1997.
Activists point out that certain language in the state constitution make successful litigation in Colorado difficult. Fox said Colorado might take years to resolve the finance problem in their state. “School reform has never been for the short winded,” he added. If Fox’s analogy is correct, many states are coming up for air The Illinois Legislature killed Senate Bill 645, which would nave decreased a eliance on property taxes for public school funding and set up a system to equalize school funding through other tax sources.
Indeed, the road to reaching school funding solutions is a long process. For Rodriguez, the process brings frustration. “l get angry when I think that our country can spend billions in aid on other nations while our kids receive low quality education,” he said. “The next generation will suffer if we fail to take action today,”