uniformity of taxation, 30 state school code statutes, 31 and the policy preference for local control of
This Part will first briefly discuss Serrano v. Priest and other court cases that challenged
state education funding systems before Rodriguez. After summarizing the Supreme Court’s
ruling in Rodriguez, this Part will argue that the Court’s opinion clashes with (if not wholly
contradicts) other education cases both before and after Rodriguez. Finally, this Part explains the
lasting impact of Rodriguez on modern education funding litigation.
A. Serrano and the First Wave of Education Finance Cases
Although school funding systems have faced legal challenges since at least 1912, 33 the
California Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in Serrano v. Priest is considered the first modern
landmark in education finance litigation. 34 In Serrano, the California Supreme Court found that
education plays a vital role in a citizen’s ability to participate politically and economically in
American life, and as such, must be a fundamental right. 35 Consequently, the court reviewed the
state’s funding scheme under the strict scrutiny standard of review, requiring the state to
demonstrate that the funding system was necessary and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling
state interest. 36 Rejecting the state’s argument that the school funding system promoted local
matters are really political in nature and best resolved by the body politic rather than suitable for judicial review.”). Essentially, the
doctrine works to preserve the separation of powers. See Christine M. O’Neill, Closing the Door on Positive Rights: State Court Use
of the Political Question Doctrine to Deny Access to Educational Adequacy Claims, 42 COLUM. J.L. & SOC. PROBS. 545, 556-57
(2009) (“The political question doctrine is the judiciary's attempt to respect the structural boundaries between the three branches of
federal government.”); see also Comm. for Educ. Rights v. Edgar, 672 N.E.2d 1178, 1191-93 (Ill. 1996) (discussing the political
question doctrine); O’Neill, supra (discussing and arguing against application of the federal political question doctrine in state
education funding cases); supra Part IV-A (arguing against the Illinois Supreme Court’s use of the political question doctrine in Edgar
and Lewis E.).
28 Edgar, 672 N.E.2d at 1183-93; Lewis E., 710 N.E.2d at 802-05; Robinson v. Cahill, 303 A.2d 273, 287-98 (N.J. 1973); see also
infra Part IV-B (examining the Edgar court’s analysis of the Illinois State Constitution’s education clause).
29 Serrano v. Priest, 487 P.2d 1241, 1249-60 (Cal. 1971); Edgar, 672 N.E.2d at 1193-94.
30 Complaint at 7-11, Carr v. Koch, 981 N.E.2d 326 (Ill. 2012) (No. 2010MR000169), available at
http://www.bpichicago.org/pe_litigation.php (arguing that Illinois’ school funding system illegally discriminates against taxpayers in
property-poor school districts because the system in effect forces them to pay higher property taxes than wealthier communities).
Ultimately, the Illinois Supreme Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ case for lack of standing. See Carr v. Koch, 981 N.E.2d 326, 336 (Ill.
31 Lewis E., 710 N.E.2d at 812-15.
32 Edgar, 672 N.E.2d at 1195-96; see also infra Part IV-C (analyzing the Edgar court’s invocation of local control in its majority
33 See Michael D. Blanchard, The New Judicial Federalism: Deference Masquerading as Discourse and the Tyranny of the Locality in
State Judicial Review of Education Finance, 60 U. PITT. L. REV. 231, 244 (1998) (citing Sawyer v. Gilmore, 83 A. 673 (Me. 1912) as
the earliest major school funding litigation).
34 See id. (citing Serrano as the first modern education finance case). The Serrano plaintiffs, a group of students and parents served by
Los Angeles County public schools, argued that the state funding system’s heavy reliance on local property taxes produced
unconstitutional disparities in per-pupil funding. Serrano, 487 P.2d at 1244.
35 Serrano, 487 P.2d at 1255-60. Note that in Edgar, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected a similar argument made by the plaintiffs, and
held that it could only find fundamental rights “at the heart of the relationship between the individual and a republican form of
nationally integrated government.” Edgar, 672 N.E.2d at 1194-95.
36 Serrano, 487 P.2d at 1259-60. Briefly, federal courts review various government actions under three levels of judicial scrutiny
depending on the type of right or class of citizens affected by the action (and, as is the case in Serrano, state courts typically adopt a
substantially similar system of judicial review). See NOWAK & ROTUNDA, supra note 27, at 390-91 (summarizing the three levels of
judicial review). Courts will apply strict scrutiny to government actions that discriminate against a suspect class of citizens (such as
those based on race, national origin, or alienage) or affect a fundamental right (such as the right to free speech). Id. This means that the
court will not defer to the decisions of the other branches of government and will instead independently determine whether the action
is necessary and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest. Id. On the other end of the spectrum, government actions that do not
affect a suspect class or fundamental right are generally reviewed under the “rational relationship” test. Id. Here, a court will not
conduct any significant independent review of the legislation, and instead will defer to the government in determining whether the
action in question is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. Id. Finally, more recent cases involving classifications
based on sex or illegitimacy have invoked an “intermediate scrutiny” test that is less stringent than strict scrutiny, but also does not
entirely defer to the state, in determining whether the challenged action bears a substantial relationship to an important governmental