Illinois’ property tax-based system. 105 The language would have also strengthened Article X’s
language to clearly define education as a fundamental right receiving enhanced protection from
the courts. 106 Ultimately, the amendment was defeated at the polls, largely based on fears of
increased taxes and decreased funding for wealthier districts. 107
C. The Major Illinois School Funding Cases: Edgar and Lewis E.
Around the time of the 1992 amendment referendum, a group of more than sixty school
districts, students, and parents filed a suit in state court seeking declaratory judgment that Illinois’
school funding system was unconstitutional. 108 The plaintiffs’ primary claims alleged that the
school funding system violated the Illinois State Constitution’s equal protection clause and
Article X because it failed to remedy the significant funding disparities between wealthy and poor
When Committee for Education Rights v. Edgar came before the Illinois Supreme Court
in 1996, the court’s first task was determining exactly what education rights, if any, were
guaranteed by Article X. 110 The plaintiffs argued that the disparities produced by the state’s
funding system violated Article X’s guaranty of an “efficient” educational system, and that the
system prevented children in poor districts from attaining a “high quality” education. 111
Crucially, the court observed that the plaintiffs had made both equity and adequacy arguments. 112
While the former claim would require a construction of Article X to determine whether the word
“efficient” means “equal,” the latter claim raised the issue of whether the court had the
105 The amendment would have incorporated the following language into Article X, Section 1:
1. Education of all persons is a fundamental “right,” not just a “goal” of the state government.
2. It is the “paramount duty” of the State to:
a) provide a thorough and efficient system of high quality public education, and;
b) guarantee equality of educational opportunity as a fundamental right.
3. The State has the “preponderant financial responsibility” for financing public education.
League of Women Voters of Illinois, Statewide Referendums, CHI. TRIB. (Oct. 25, 1992), http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-10-
25/news/9204060922_ 1_public-education-education-amendment-jim-edgar; see also Dellios & Pearson, supra note 103 (summarizing
the potential impact of the amendment on the state funding system); Karwath & Christian, supra note 17 (noting that “perennially
cash-strapped schools stand to benefit most” from the amendment).
106 Dellios & Pearson, supra note 103 (“Proponents say the amendment is intended to strengthen language in the Illinois
Constitution.”). See infra Part IV-B for a more extensive discussion of Article X’s language and legal ramifications.
107 Amendments and Conventions Proposed, supra note 17. Although there were 1,882,569 votes for the amendment, more than those
voting against it, the number nonetheless fell short of the three-fifths majority vote needed to pass constitutional amendments in
Illinois. See id.; ILL. CONST. art. XIV, § 2(b); see also Dellios & Pearson, supra note 103 (noting that leading up to the amendment
vote, Illinois residents could expect to hear “frequent warnings about massive income-tax hikes,” that then-governor Jim Edgar
warned the amendment could lead to a fifty percent increase in the state income tax, and that representatives from wealthier districts
believed the state’s funding system already “unfairly gives poorer areas a disproportionate share of state funds”); Karwath &
Christian, supra note 17 (noting that the amendment fell short due to opposition from voters in wealthy suburban counties outside of
Chicago who were concerned that the amendment could lead to property tax increases).
108 Comm. for Educ. Rights v. Edgar, 672 N.E.2d 1178, 1180 (Ill. 1996); Dellios & Pearson, supra note 103. A “declaratory
judgment” is a binding adjudication of one or more party’s rights, “whether or not any consequential relief is or could be claimed.”
See 735 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 5/2-701 (West 2013).
109 Edgar, 672 N.E.2d at 1182-83. According to the plaintiffs, during the 1989-90 school year, the average tax base in the wealthiest
10% of districts was thirteen times larger than that of those in lowest 10%, allowing wealthy districts to spend substantially more on
their students. Id. at 1182. One plaintiff district noted that it could not afford to clean up exposed asbestos, patch leaking roofs, or
replace rotting football bleachers. Id. at 1197-98 (Freeman, J., dissenting).
110 The plaintiffs’ case had been dismissed by the circuit and appellate courts for failure to state a claim. Id. at 1182-83 (majority
111 By alleging that the state funding system was not “efficient,” the plaintiffs asserted that children in poor districts were receiving a
comparatively worse education that those in wealthier districts; by alleging that students poor districts were not receiving a “high
quality” education, however, the plaintiffs were asking the court to find their students’ education absolutely inadequate. Id.
112 Id. at 1183; see also supra Part II (contrasting the equity claims made in Serrano to the adequacy claims made in Robinson and
other post-Rodriguez cases).