In fact, education-funding issues are not new, nor have they gone unnoticed by Illinois
lawmakers. 15 Delegates to the 1970 Constitutional Convention (which produced Illinois’ current
constitution) were well aware of the inequalities in the state’s school finance system and fought
over potential constitutional remedies, but they ultimately failed to produce a solution. 16 In 1992,
a state constitutional amendment that would have largely eliminated Illinois’ property tax-based
finance system was defeated in a referendum after heated public debate. 17
Following these failures, Illinois students in low-income school districts took their fight
to the courts, first in Committee for Education Rights v. Edgar in 1996 and then Lewis E. v.
Spagnolo in 1999.18 Despite successful legal challenges to property tax-based funding systems in
several other states, 19 the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the current funding system in both
cases. 20 Moreover, the court held that school funding was a topic exclusively for the Illinois state
13 Lewis E. v. Spagnolo, 710 N.E.2d 798, 817 (Ill. 1999) (Freeman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (describing the
conditions in poor East St. Louis schools, including exposed asbestos, overflowing sewage pipes, broken windows, unheated
14 Students in wealthier school districts routinely score higher on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (“ISAT”) and Prairie State
Achievement Exam (“PSAE”), Illinois’ primary measure of student achievement for elementary and high school students,
respectively. See Student Assessment—Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), ILL. STATE BOARD OF EDUC.,
http://www.isbe.state.il.us/assessment/ isat.htm (last updated Oct. 2013) [hereinafter Student Assessment Illinois] (discussing the ISAT,
the primary tool for measuring student achievement throughout grades three through eight); Student Assessment—Prairie State
Achievement Examination (PSAE), ILL. STATE BOARD OF EDUC., http://www.isbe.state.il.us/assessment/ psae.htm (last updated Oct.
2013) [hereinafter Student Assessment Prairie State] (discussing the PSAE, the primary measurement of student achievement for high
school students); CTR. FOR TAX & BUDGET ACCOUNTABILITY, supra note 11, at 10, 16. In 2012, for example, 96% of students in
wealthy Northbrook School District 28 met or exceeded state reading standards on the ISAT. ILLINOIS INTERACTIVE REPORT CARD,
supra note 8. In comparison, 62% of students in Calumet Public School District 132 met or exceeded reading standards that same
year. Id. Similarly, 81% of students in Lake Forest CHSD 115 met or exceeded reading standards on the 2012 PSAE, while just 29%
of J. Sterling Morton High School District 201 students met or exceeded the goals. Id. Nationally, students in poorer districts also tend
to perform worse academically than their peers in wealthier districts. See Timothy D. Lynch, Note, Education as a Fundamental
Right: Challenging the Supreme Court’s Jurisprudence, 26 HOFSTRA L. REV. 953, 960-64 (1998) (describing poor academic
performance in various low-income areas in the U.S.).
15 See BURESH, supra note 2, at 72-74 (noting that at the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention, education funding was a major
concern of the delegates tasked with rewriting Illinois’ Article X education clause); infra Part III-B (summarizing the failed effort in
1992 to amend Article X to increase funding equality in Illinois Public Schools).
16 See BURESH, supra note 2, at 74-79, 84-86. Buresh notes that in 1969 a school district with an assessed property value of $5,462 per
pupil would only generate $210 per pupil if it levied a 4% education property tax; the same tax levy assessed in a district with property
values of $105,815 per pupil would generate $4,230. Id. Even if taxing at a significantly higher level, it would be virtually impossible
for the property-poor district to fund its schools at a level comparable to the property-rich district. Id. at 73-74. As will be discussed
later in this Article, the 1970 Constitutional Convention delegates settled on a re-worded education article that ultimately did little to
change Illinois’ system of financing public schools. See infra Part IV-B (noting that the Illinois Supreme Court has held that much of
the revised education clause—but not all, including the important phrase “high-quality”—was intended to be merely “hortatory,” and
not legally binding on the state).
17 See Constitution of the State of Illinois, Amendments and Conventions Proposed, ILL. GEN. ASSEMBLY (Sept. 16, 2011),
http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/conampro.htm [hereinafter Amendments and Conventions Proposed]. See generally Rob
Karwath & Sue Ellen Christian, Education Amendment Falling Short, CHI. TRIB. (Nov. 4, 1992),
the debate surrounding the amendment referendum).
18 Comm. for Educ. Rights v. Edgar, 672 N.E.2d 1178, 1185-86 (Ill. 1996); Lewis E., 710 N.E.2d at 816-17.
19 See, e.g., Serrano v. Priest, 487 P.2d 1241, 1244, 1258 (Cal. 1971) (finding that education is a fundamental right, and as such,
applying strict scrutiny and finding that California’s education funding system violated both state and federal equal protection
clauses); Sheff v. O'Neill, 678 A.2d 1267, 1270-71 (Conn. 1996) (finding that Connecticut’s education funding system violated the
state constitution’s education clause because the funding system had failed to eliminate spending disparities between wealthy and poor
districts); Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186, 215-16 (Ky. 1989) (finding that Kentucky’s education funding
system was unconstitutional under the state constitution’s education clause because it failed to provide an “efficient system of
common schools”); Abbott v. Burke, 575 A.2d 359, 385 (N.J. 1990) (“[I]n order to provide a thorough and efficient education [under
the state’s constitutional education clause], the State must assure that their educational expenditures per pupil are substantially
equivalent to those of the more affluent suburban districts, and . . . special disadvantages must be addressed.”).
20 Edgar, 672 N.E.2d at 1180; Lewis E., 710 N.E.2d at 816. As of September 2011, plaintiffs have scored victories in twenty-seven
states, while defendants have won in nineteen states excluding Illinois. NAT’L EDUC. ACCESS NETWORK, “EQUITY” AND “ADEQUACY”
SCHOOL FUNDING LIABILITY COURT DECISIONS, SEPTEMBER 2011 (2011), http://schoolfunding.info/wp-
Outcome_2011.pdf [hereinafter EQUI T Y AND ADEQUACY DECISIONS].