B. The Education Clause of the Illinois Constitution
Unlike the Federal Constitution, state constitutions include articles explicitly providing
for some form of a public school system. 98 Illinois is no exception—Article X, Section 1 of the
Illinois State Constitution provides for a state-created system of free public schools. 99
The education article was first added to Illinois’ constitution in 1870, and took its present
form following revisions made at the 1970 Constitutional Convention. 100 Illinois’ education
article shares much of its language with other state education provisions, 101 including phrases that
have served as the basis for several plaintiff victories in education funding cases. 102 A 1992
amendment referendum, however, would have reformed Illinois’ school funding system just four
years before Edgar. 103 Following a bitter debate in the Illinois General Assembly, a bi-partisan
coalition of urban Democrats and downstate Republicans voted to add the referendum to the
November ballot. 104 The referendum proposed adding language to Article X that would have
forced the state to provide the majority of education funding in Illinois, effectively prohibiting
nation. DAVIS ET AL., INST. ON TAXATION AND ECON. POL’Y, WHO PAYS? A DISTRIBUTIONAL ANALYSIS OF THE TAX SYSTEM IN ALL
50 STATES 4 (3rd ed. 2009). The poorest 20% of residents pay on average 13% of their total annual income towards taxes, whereas the
middle 60% pay about 9.7% of their income towards taxes, and the top 1% pay about 4.9%. Id. at 42. Similarly, Illinois’ poorest
residents tend to pay about five times as much of their annual income towards property taxes as the state’s wealthiest residents. Id.
98 See Karen Swenson, School Finance Reform Litigation: Why Are Some State Supreme Courts Activist and Others Restrained?, 63
ALB. L. REV. 1147, 1148 n. 9 (2000) (citing education clauses for all fifty states).
99 A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their
The state shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services.
Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as
the General Assembly provides by law.
The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.
ILL. CONST. art. X, § 1.
100 BURESH, supra note 2, at 34; ILL. CONST. art. X, § 1.
101 See Gershon M. Ratner, A New Legal Duty for Urban Public Schools: Effective Education in Basic Schools, 63 TEX. L. REV. 777,
814-16 (1985) (categorizing state education articles into four groups depending on the “strength” of their wording). The weakest
provisions merely provide for system of “free” schools; most education articles contain this language. Id. at 815. The next strongest
provisions contain some characterization of quality of the education system, typically “thorough and efficient.” Id. This language is
used in the education articles of New Jersey, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, and many other states. Id. at 815 n.144. Still stronger are
those that compel state legislatures to specifically provide for state education systems. Id. at 815-16. Finally, the strongest provisions
include some language (such as “fundamental” or “paramount”) that makes education a top priority of state government. Id. at 816,
816 n.146. Washington, Maine, Michigan, and Illinois are some of the states in this final category. Id. at 816 n.146.
102 Several courts in other states have relied on the words “thorough and efficient,” or substantially similar language, to invalidate
funding systems. See, e.g., Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S. W.2d 186 (Ky. 1989); Abbott v. Burke, 575 A.2d 359 (N.J.
1990); Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Kirby, 777 S.W.2d 391 (Tex. 1989); Pauley v. Kelly, 255 S.E.2d 859 (W. Va. 1979). But see
Comm. for Educ. Rights v. Edgar, 672 N.E.2d 1178, 1191-94 (Ill. 1996) (discussing, unfavorably, cases in other states that have relied
on this language to invalidate state funding systems).
103 See Hugh Dellios & Rick Pearson, School-Fund Question on Nov. 3 Ballot, CHI. TRIB. (May 1, 1992),
(summarizing generally the 1992 amendment referendum); Karwath & Christian, supra note 17 (discussing the failure of the
104 The Illinois House of Representatives voted 71-44 to include the referendum, including 61 Democratic and 10 Republican “yea”
votes, but not before a post-debate fist-fight between downstate and suburban Chicago representatives. Dellios & Pearson, supra note
103. The tenor of the debate surrounding the amendment vote is illustrative of the politics involved in school funding reform. While
pushes for reform are traditionally associated with larger urban districts—the plaintiffs in Edgar included Chicago Public Schools as
well as districts located in Elgin and Rockford; the plaintiffs in Lewis E. were from East St. Louis—downstate Republicans also
strongly supported the referendum. Id. This is because rural areas generally have low property values as well as high transportation
costs for students living far from schools. See CTR. FOR TAX & BUDGET ACCOUNTABILITY, supra note 11, at 13-14 (noting the “stark”
disparity in funding between wealthier school districts in the northern part of Illinois and poorer downstate districts south of Interstate
80). Thus, rural schools often suffer from the same sort of chronic underfunding typical of large, urban schools. See generally id.
(noting that most downstate school districts are foundation formula districts). As one might expect, opposition to funding reform
usually comes from wealthy districts that fear that any changes in the financing scheme would result in higher taxes that ultimately
benefit poor districts and not their own. Dellios & Pearson, supra note 103.