Evidence suggests Justice Freeman’s fears were well founded.145 While the Edgar
majority’s minimalist reading of Article X was fairly accurate,146 the delegates to the 1970
Constitutional Convention nonetheless believed that Article X’s strong wording would compel
the Illinois state legislature to pass significant funding reforms in order to remedy educational
inequality.147 More than forty years later, the legislature has yet to act.148 In other states as well,
legislative inaction has often prevented meaningful reform.149 Thus, it may be time to once again
challenge Illinois’s school funding system in court.
Since 1999, the Illinois state legislature has not reformed the state’s education funding
system, and the state continues to fund schools at one of the lowest rates in the U.S.150 With
Rodriguez preventing plaintiffs from pursuing federal claims against the Illinois state
government, and Edgar and Lewis E. ostensibly preventing state claims, it would appear
education reformers are left with few options.
As this Part will demonstrate, however, the Edgar and Lewis E. opinions leave open a
few points of attack for future litigants. The Illinois Supreme Court’s reliance on the United
States Supreme Court’s political question jurisprudence, which precludes courts from hearing
certain inherently political issues, defers unnecessarily to federal law, and also contradicts the
Illinois Supreme Court’s own political question precedent. Moreover, the Edgar court’s
interpretation of Article X failed to define a key provision—whether the promise of a “high
quality” education establishes some minimal level of educational adequacy.151 Finally, the
Illinois Supreme Court’s deference to local control is unnecessary and ignores the fact that the
current funding system does not provide meaningful control for property-poor school districts.
A. The Illinois Supreme Court’s Misapplication of the Federal Political Question Doctrine in
Edgar and Lewis E.
Before examining the Edgar and Lewis E. courts’ political question analysis, some
background on the doctrine is necessary. The political question doctrine is a federal law principle
that preserves the separation of powers by helping courts to determine when ruling on an issue
taxing rates, the plaintiffs’ injuries were not properly traceable to the named defendants and thus could not provide standing. See Carr
v. Koch, 981 N.E.2d 326, 331-36 (Ill. 2012).
145 See Secter, supra note 2 and accompanying text.
146 See infra Part IV-B (analyzing the intentions of the 1970 Constitutional Convention delegates).
147 See BURESH, supra note 2, at 126 (quoting Malcolm Kamin, a member of the Convention’s education committee, as stating after
the Convention that “[ i]f the legislature and the new State Board of Education will take the school financing language for what it is—
the statement of a pressing problem and the urgent prayer for a fair solution—then they will act to equalize educational opportunity
and the tax burdens of educational financing without further judicial intervention”).
148 See Secter, supra note 2 and accompanying text; Thomas D. Wilson & John K. Wilson, Equalizing School Funding and the 1970
Constitutional Convention, ILL. ISSUES, Mar. 1992, at 21, 21, available at http://www.lib.niu.edu/1992/ii920321.html (stating that
“[t]he hope for equalizing funding through the legislature has never been fulfilled” since the 1970 Convention, but funding disparities
between rich and poor districts have greatly increased).
149 In Rodriguez, the Texas district court initially delayed hearing of the case for two years while the Texas legislature unsuccessfully
investigated possible reforms. San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 6 n. 4 (1973). After invalidating the funding
scheme, the court stayed its decision for another two years but retained its right to fashion remedial actions in case the legislature
failed to act. Id. at 6 n. 5. In New Jersey, Robinson v. Cahill first invalidated the state’s funding system in 1973, but the legislature did
not pursue true reform until after Abbott v. Burke was decided in 1997. See Robinson v. Cahill, 303 A.2d 273, 287-298 (N.J. 1973);
Abbott v. Burke, 575 A.2d 359 (N.J. 1990); Lynch, supra note 14, at 974 (summarizing education reform in New Jersey).
150 See supra Part I (summarizing the economic shortfalls and inequalities Illinois public schools currently face). During the 2011-
2012 school year, just 32.5% of public school funding came from the state. 2012 ANNUAL REPORT, supra note 4; Total Revenues and
Percentage Distribution, supra note 4.
151 See infra Part IV-B (providing an analysis of the 1970 Constitutional Convention record and what it suggests about the meaning of