federalism. 78 As the Court took on a more conservative bent under Chief Justice Burger, Brennan
argued that plaintiffs should turn to state courts for expanding protection of individual rights and
liberties. 79 Following Robinson, several state supreme courts answered Justice Brennan’s call and
invalidated inequitable school funding systems under their state’s education clause. 80 Yet when
plaintiffs from some of Illinois’ most impoverished schools brought similar arguments before the
Illinois Supreme Court, the court firmly rebuked Justice Brennan’s call.
Before examining the Illinois Supreme Court’s primary education funding decisions,
Committee for Education Rights v. Edgar and Lewis E. v. Spagnolo, it is necessary to briefly
review the mechanics of Illinois’s school funding system81 as well as the education clause of the
Illinois Constitution. 82 Thus, this Part will first explain Illinois’ public education finance system,
and illustrate how it results in funding disparities between property-poor (those communities with
low property values) and property-wealthy (those with high property value) school districts. This
Part will then review Article X of the Illinois State Constitution, which requires the state to
establish a system of free public schools. Finally, this Part summarizes the Illinois Supreme
Court’s rulings in Edgar and Lewis E., and discusses their impact on education funding litigation.
A. Illinois’ Public School Finance System
Illinois’ school funding system assigns school districts to one of three funding groups for
the purpose of determining how much general state aid (“GSA”) will be given to each district. 83
Each year, the state first sets the foundation, or minimum level of funding per pupil for all public
schools in Illinois. 84 The state then calculates how much local revenue each district will
theoretically be able to generate and apply towards achieving this foundation funding level. 85
This is done by multiplying the equalized assessed value of local property within a district by a
standardized property tax rate, and then dividing this value by the school district’s average daily
78 William J. Brennan, Jr., State Constitutions and the Protection of Individual Rights, 90 HARV. L. REV. 489, 491 (1977) (arguing that
plaintiffs should seek out expanded civil rights under state constitutions, and describing this push as a “new judicial federalism”); see
also Blanchard, supra note 33, at 237 (tying Justice Brennan’s call for a new judicial federalism to the shift in education funding cases
to state courts).
79 See Brennan, supra note 78. Justice Brennan criticizes several of the Supreme Court’s civil liberties opinions issued under Chief
Justice William Burger, including those affecting free speech; the rights of women, criminal defendants, and the poor; and tenured
public employees. See id. at 495-96 (arguing that the Supreme Court in the 1970s had begun to “pull back” from its more progressive
civil liberties jurisprudence in the previous decade). State courts and constitutions, Justice Brennan urged, are “font[s] of individual
liberties” and should reach beyond the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in protecting individual rights. Id. Criminal law often provided
examples of state supreme court independence in constitutional matters. See Blanchard, supra note 33, at 238-39 (citing as examples
of state supreme court independence Commonwealth v. Upton, 476 N.E.2d 548 (Mass. 1985), in which the Massachusetts Supreme
Court rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment analysis in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), and State v. Morris,
680 A.2d 90 (Vt. 1996), in which the Vermont Supreme Court expanded the expectation of privacy beyond the limits established by
the U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988)).
80 See ADEQUACY LIABILITY DECISIONS, supra note 77 (noting that twenty-two of thirty-four state adequacy cases, which are
generally argued based on state constitution education clauses, have resulted in plaintiff victories); see, e.g., Robinson v. Cahill, 303
A.2d 273, 295 (N.J. 1973) (resting its decision on a violation of the state’s education clause).
81 See 105 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 5/18-8.05 (West 2013) (setting the Illinois general state aid system for the 2013-2014 school year).
82 ILL. CONST. art. X, § 1.
83 105 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 5/18-1 to 18-20; see ILL. STATE BD. OF EDUC., GENERAL STATE AID (2011),
http://www.isbe.net/funding/pdf/gsa_overview.pdf [hereinafter GENERAL STATE AID] (providing an explanation of the education
84 105 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 5/18-8.05; see GENERAL STATE AID, supra note 83. For the 2012-2013 school year, the foundation level
of funding per pupil was $6, 119. Id.; 2012 ANNUAL REPORT, supra note 4, at 2. Due to reductions in General State Aid in the Illinois
State Fiscal Year 2013 budget, however, the effective amount of funding per pupil during this time was actually $5,734. See id.
85 See GENERAL STATE AID, supra note 83 (providing additional explanation of the school funding statute).