The Court first found that classifications based on wealth are not suspect. 45 The plaintiffs
failed to define a clear “class” of impoverished students, the Court found, because they presented
insufficient criteria for determining who would fall into this suspect class. 46 Moreover, the
plaintiffs had not been wholly deprived of educational opportunity. 47 They had merely received a
relatively worse educational experience than students in wealthier districts. 48 Finally, the Court
concluded by noting that wealth classifications generally lack the “traditional indicia of suspect-ness” of racial classifications, solidifying the Court’s refusal to recognize the poor as a protected
The Court then turned to the issue of whether education is a fundamental right. 50
Quoting Brown v. Board of Education, the Court acknowledged the importance of education in
American society as well as the Court’s own unique treatment of education in its jurisprudence. 51
Nevertheless, the Court emphasized that not all important rights are fundamental. 52 Instead,
fundamental rights must be found, explicitly or implicitly, within the Constitution itself. 53 Simply
put, education may be important to the exercise of constitutional rights, but because it is not
promised by the Constitution itself, it is not a fundamental right. 54
By declining to recognize wealth as a suspect classification or education as a fundamental
right, the Court determined it should apply a rational basis review to the Texas funding system. 55
The Court found it lacked the expertise and jurisdiction to pass judgment on Texas’ school
funding system. 56 Moreover, invalidating the Texas funding system would violate the long-standing American tradition of locally controlled schools. 57 Ultimately, reform might very well
45 Id. at 28-29.
46 Id. at 20. The Court’s focus on the income level of individual persons or family units, however, seems misguided. The thrust of the
plaintiffs’ argument was that they were discriminated against as residents of property-poor districts. Rodriguez v. San Antonio Indep.
Sch. Dist., 337 F. Supp. 280, 281-82 (W.D. Tex. 1971), rev'd, 411 U.S. 1 (1973). Regardless of variations in individual wealth
amongst residents of a given district, the overall property-wealth of the district is quantifiable and easily comparable to that of other
districts, and creates a clear member class of citizens negatively impacted by the state funding system. See infra Part IV-A (arguing
that, within Illinois, making wealth comparisons between districts is easily facilitated by public financial data as well as the state’s
own method of classifying districts within its funding system).
47 Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 20-24 (finding that the plaintiffs’ lack of “personal resources has not occasioned an absolute deprivation” of
education). The Court distinguished the plaintiffs’ case from other “wealth class” cases where it believed poor parties were being
wholly deprived of some benefit or right. Id. In Williams v. Illinois, for example, the Court struck down criminal penalties that
imprisoned indigents if they were unable to pay a fine. Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235, 236-38, 245 (1970). In Bullock v. Carter,
the Court invalidated a filing-fee scheme for primary elections in Texas that required potential candidates to pay very large sums of
money to get on the ballot, effectively precluding the poor from participation. Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134, 135-36, 149 (1972).
48 Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 23.
49 Id. at 28-29 (“The system of alleged discrimination and the class it defines have none of the traditional indicia of suspect-ness: the
class is not saddled with such disabilities, or subjected to such a history of purposeful unequal treatment, or relegated to such a
position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process.”).
50 Id. at 35-36. Education, the plaintiffs argued, is necessary for the proper exercise of voting and free speech rights; as such, the right
to education is implicitly protected by the Constitution. Id.
51 Id. at 29-30. In Brown, the Court noted that “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.”
Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954).
52 Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 35 (“[T]he key to discovering whether education is ‘fundamental’ is not to be found in comparisons of the
relative societal significance of education.”).
53 Id. In one of the most famous—and for education reformers, infamous—lines of the majority opinion, the Court emphasized that it
could not guarantee citizens “the most effective speech or the most informed electoral choice.” Id. at 36. Note that the Edgar court
largely adhered to the Supreme Court’s fundamental rights analysis in Rodriguez, emphasizing that even critically important rights
may not be fundamental. Comm. for Educ. Rights v. Edgar, 672 N.E.2d 1178, 1194-95 (Ill. 1996); infra Part III-C (summarizing
Edgar and Lewis E.).
54 Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 36.
55 See id. at 41-50 (applying rational basis review to the Texas funding system).
56 Id. at 44. Curiously, the majority nonetheless criticizes plaintiffs for not suggesting an alternative system of funding. Id. at 41 n. 85
(“Those who urge that the present system be invalidated offer little guidance as to what type of school financing should replace it.”).
Given the Court’s steadfast refusal to rule on state education issues, it is unclear what value such a proposal would have had.
57 Id. at 49. Local control essentially refers to the devolution of control of schools from state governments to local school boards. See
Charles F. Faber, Is Local Control of Schools Still a Viable Option?, 14 HARV. J.L. & PUB. POL'Y 447, 447 (1991) (noting that
“[m]uch of the responsibility for actually conducting educational programs has historically been delegated to local school districts,