whom serve very different constituencies and school districts with very different economic
Since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Rodriguez, the path to education
finance reform has run not through state legislatures, but rather through state supreme courts.249
In twenty-seven states, challenges to property tax-based financing systems have been successful,
and new cases continue to be litigated.250 The Illinois Supreme Court’s rulings in Edgar and
Lewis E., however, firmly placed the court within a small minority that have refused to hear
education litigation due to the court’s belief that such questions are political and thus not
justiciable.251 Despite the barrier to future litigation ostensibly erected by these cases, plaintiffs
should continue to challenge the state’s unjust funding system and the court’s questionable
education funding jurisprudence.
This Part will first examine how increasing education funding can help improve student
performance. Next, it will discuss the importance of building statewide political consensus
before future plaintiffs initiate litigation. This Part will then argue that the Illinois Supreme Court
should hear future litigation cases on the merits, and should find a guarantee of a minimally
adequate education level in the Illinois state constitution’s education article. Finally, this Part
will urge the Illinois state legislature to recognize that a truly effective education funding system
requires consideration of each district’s individual needs rather than a system that simply
equalizes funding for districts across the board.
A. Increasing Education Funding Improves Academic Performance in Public Schools
Before discussing the path forward for future litigants, it is worth examining whether
increased education funding does, in fact, improve educational performance.252 Perhaps
surprisingly, researchers have only recently attempted to analyze the relationship between
education spending and student achievement.253 Moreover, studies examining this relationship
are inherently difficult to design and often suffer from a lack of useful data.254 Even so, studies
published in the last fifteen years suggest that increasing education funding can have a
248 See Secter, supra note 2 (noting Illinois voters’ and representatives’ unwillingness to increase funding for districts other than their
own); supra note 104 and accompanying text (discussing the political divide between urban, suburban, and rural state representatives
over the proposed 1992 amendment to Article X of the Illinois State Constitution).
249 See generally Brooker, supra note 39 (summarizing state-level education funding reform litigation post-Rodriguez); NAT’L EDUC.
ACCESS NETWORK, http://schoolfunding.info/ (last visited Sept. 16, 2013) (providing information on school funding litigation across
250 See NAT’L EDUC. ACCESS NETWORK, supra note 249 (summarizing litigation results across the United States).
251 See O’Neill, supra note 27, at 560-61 (noting that seven states, including Illinois, have dismissed education funding cases based on
the state’s political question doctrine). For examples of education funding cases in other states that have also refused to decide cases
on the merits because due to nonjusticiability, see Nebraska Coalition for Education Equity & Adequacy v. Heineman, 731 N.W.2d
164, 182-83 (Neb. 2007) and City of Pawtucket v. Sundlun, 662 A.2d 40, 57-59 (R.I. 1995).
252 In Rodriguez, the United States Supreme Court questioned whether reforming school funding would actually benefit children in
poor districts. See San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 56-59 (1973) (“The complexity of these problems is
demonstrated by the lack of consensus with respect to whether it may be said with any assurance that the poor, the racial minorities, or
the children in over-burdened core-city school districts would be benefited by abrogation of traditional modes of financing
253 See Dennis J. Condron & Vincent J. Roscigno, Disparities Within: Unequal Spending and Achievement in an Urban School
District, 76 SOC. EDUCATION 18, 32 (2003) (“The analysis of the link between spending and achievement at the school level is in its
infancy.”); David Card & A. Abigail Payne, School Finance Reform, the Distribution of School Spending, and the Distribution of
Student Test Scores, 83 J. PUB. ECON. 49, 68 (2002) (noting that at the time of their study, there was “relatively little direct evidence
linking school finance reforms to student outcomes” and that “research on the generic effects of school spending is controversial”).
254 Student performance may be influenced by a number of variables, and education funding disparities may manifest themselves in
different ways at different schools, including differences in teacher education, quality of facilities and instructional material, and the
talent of district administrators. See Condron & Roscigno, supra note 253, at 21. Many studies to date have focused on district-level
measures of education spending and student performance, yet spending between schools within the same district is itself often
unequal. See id. at 20 (noting that variations in spending between schools within the same district can make studies examining school
funding and student academic performance unreliable). Moreover, the availability of school-level spending and academic achievement
data varies from state to state, making large-scale studies difficult. See id.