legislature to decide, ostensibly foreclosing future litigation. 21 With federal litigation largely
precluded by the United States Supreme Court in San Antonio Independent School District v.
Rodriguez, 22 the Edgar and Lewis E. decisions left potential school funding litigants with few
legal options. 23
This Article will examine the Illinois Supreme Court’s education finance jurisprudence,
arguing that the court should strike down the current funding system as unconstitutional under the
Illinois State Constitution. Part II examines the history of education finance litigation at the
national level, discussing the United States Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Rodriguez and
how it drove funding litigation to state supreme courts. Part III discusses Illinois’ education
finance system and Article X of the Illinois State Constitution, and summarizes the Illinois
Supreme Court’s rulings in Edgar and Lewis E. Part IV argues that ( 1) the court erred in finding
education finance issues to be non-justiciable political questions in both cases; ( 2) Article X of
the Illinois State Constitution should be read to guarantee some minimally adequate level of
education quality; and ( 3) the current funding system does not rationally further the state’s
preference for “local control” of public schools. Part V concludes by prescribing a course of
action for future plaintiffs, courts, and state legislatures in challenging and ultimately reforming
Illinois’ school finance system.
Despite several major plaintiffs’ victories in the past two decades, education-funding
litigation remains a convoluted and politically volatile area of the law. 24 In Rodriguez, Justice
Powell noted “[e]ducation, perhaps even more than welfare assistance, presents a myriad of
intractable economic, social, and even philosophical problems." 25 The Rodriguez opinion spans
133 pages and discusses the Equal Protection Clause, fundamental rights, federalism, and public
education policy in the majority opinion alone. 26 State supreme court cases contain similar legal
sprawl, touching on issues including state-level separation of powers and the political question
doctrine, 27 state constitution education articles, 28 federal and state equal protection clauses, 29
21 See Lewis E., 710 N.E.2d at 816 (Freeman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (In Edgar, the “court shut the courthouse
door to claims alleging violations of section 1 of the education article of the Illinois Constitution,” and in Lewis E., “the majority nails
that door shut”); Litigation- Illinois, NAT’L EDUC. ACCESS NETWORK, http://www.schoolfunding.info/states/il/lit_il.php3 (last updated
Apr. 2010) (noting that subsequent cases have been dismissed for failure to state a justiciable claim).
22 San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973). In Rodriguez, students and parents in a poor San Antonio school
district challenged the state’s funding system under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 4-6. After
finding that education is not a fundamental right guaranteed by the United States Constitution, the majority then determined that
education funding was a state matter best left to the Texas legislature. Id. at 38-39, 54. See infra Part II-B for a summary of the U.S.
Supreme Court’s ruling in Rodriguez and its impact on school funding litigation.
23 See Lewis E., 710 N.E.2d at 816-17 (Freeman, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (discussing the impact of the Lewis E.
and Edgar decisions on future education funding litigation). Recently, plaintiffs again attempted to challenge the school funding
system, this time under a novel taxpayer discrimination argument, but their case was dismissed in short order for lack of standing. See
Carr v. Koch, 981 N.E.2d 326, 327, 330 (Ill. 2012); supra note 144 and accompanying text.
24 See Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 17-18 (noting the “novelty and complexity of the constitutional questions” at issue in Rodriguez); James
A. Gardner, The Failed Discourse of State Constitutionalism, 90 MICH. L. REV. 761, 764-66 (1992) (describing in vivid detail the
various inconsistencies and contradictions in landmark education funding cases throughout the United States).
25 Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 42. Note, however, that Justice Powell then goes out of his way to explain that education policy makers are
sharply divided over the best method for funding schools. Id. While this is still true, it is a somewhat irrelevant point in school funding
litigation. As this Article will demonstrate, most plaintiffs have not asked the court to formulate new funding systems, instead merely
asking for declaratory judgment that a current system is unconstitutional. See infra Part IV-A (noting that education funding litigants
usually seek declaratory judgment, and arguing that ruling on education finance litigation would not force the Illinois Supreme Court
to “legislate from the bench”). Thus, courts ruling on education funding cases should not be concerned with developing an alternative
26 Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 20-29, 30-39, 42-43, 55-59.
27 The political question doctrine is a federal law principle that defines some issues as inherently political and thus inappropriate for
courts to decide. See JOHN E. NOWAK & RONALD D. ROTUNDA, PRINCIPLES OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 58 (4th ed. 2010) (“[C]ertain