Since the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Rodriguez, plaintiffs have
taken on inequitable public education finance systems in state courts. While many cases have
been successful and resulted in significant reforms in some states, the Illinois Supreme Court
effectively closed the courthouse door on funding litigation. Nevertheless, the court’s decisions
in Edgar and Lewis E. are not impenetrable. The court’s refusal to judge these cases on the
merits rests on questionable application of the federal political question doctrine, neglecting to
consider the unique nature of state supreme courts as well as the Illinois Supreme Court’s own
political question jurisprudence. Moreover, the court’s reading of the 1970 Constitutional
Convention record regarding the drafting of Article X only goes halfway, failing to properly
consider whether it mandates a minimum level of educational quality for Illinois students.
Finally, the court shackled its own judicial authority by deferring to the concept of “local
control,” a mere policy preference rather than a constitutional or even statutory dictate.
Future challenges to the Illinois education funding system may very well prove
successful on these points, but it will require a comprehensive effort to build the political will
necessary for enacting true education reform. Future plaintiffs should not be deterred by the
magnitude of such an endeavor. Political consensus for reform has existed in the past, and it can
be built again today.305 As school budgets continue to be cut, as school buildings continue to
crumble, and as Illinois’ students continue to fall behind their peers across the nation,306 it will
become increasingly clear that the state can longer turn its back on one of its most pressing
305 See supra Part V-B (discussing the importance of building political consensus around funding reform before commencing
litigation, and the existence of past political consensus in Illinois).
306 Illinois has some of the largest “performance gaps”—differences in academic performance between specific demographic groups—
in the nation. In 2011, there was a 33% difference in the number of non-low-income 4th graders and low-income 4th graders who
could read proficiently, the 5th greatest disparity in the nation. ADVANCE ILL., THE STATE WE’RE IN: A REPORT CARD ON PUBLIC
EDUCATION IN ILLINOIS 7 (2012), available at http://www.advanceillinois.org/filebin/swi_2012/Adv_Ill_Report_Card-Nov12.pdf.
There was a 27% difference in the number of white and Latino 4th graders who read proficiently—the 11th worst in the nation—and a
33% gap between white and black 4th grade readers—the 5th worst in the nation. Id. A comparison of Illinois 8th graders’ math
proficiency found similar disparities between these demographic groups, with Illinois ranking in the bottom 20 of states in all three
comparison categories. Id. Illinois also ranked 34th in the nation in high school graduation rates, 41st in worst (greatest) K- 12 student
suspension rate, 41st in the minimum number of K- 12 instruction hours per year, and 40th in the number of high school graduates
attending college. Id. at 21-22, 24.