I. Community Participationin Policy and Programming:Local Activism, Coalitions, andLitigation
States that lead the nation in providing equitableinvestment in school facilities have done so in responseto litigation. Whether courts issued rulings or statessettled with plaintiffs, lawsuits have raised awarenessand spurred action on behalf of children. Seventeenstates have revised school facilities funding as a resultof education ﬁnance litigation, and 35 states haveresolved or are currently involved in litigation relatedto school facilities adequacy.
Under court order, manyof these states increased their support for schoolconstruction and renovation.
: Hold states accountable to theirconstitutional obligation to provide equitableeducational opportunities for all students.
Litigation on behalf of low-income communities andcommunities of color has been an important tool inpushing states to take responsibility for educationaladequacy and to redress inequities in the states’facilities funding mechanisms.
’s Supreme Court ruled in 1994 in
Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66 et al. v. Bishop
that the state’s school capital ﬁnance system wasunconstitutional because it failed to conform to theconstitution’s “general and uniform” clause. The courtinterpreted the state’s constitution to require fundingto provide school facilities that would enable studentsto meet the state’s student competency standards.
’s constitution requires the state to providea “thorough and efﬁcient” system of public schooleducation.
Abbott v. Burke
decision in May1997, the New Jersey Supreme Court pointed out that“deteriorating physical facilities relate to the State’seducational obligation, and (the court) continuallyhas noted that adequate physical facilities are anessential component of that constitutional mandate.”In that same decision, the court speciﬁcally addressedthe disparity between poor and wealthier schooldistricts, observing that the state’s poorest districtshad “dilapidated, unsafe, and overcrowded facilities”and that the state “cannot expect disadvantagedchildren to learn when they are relegated to buildingsthat are unsafe and often incapable of housing thevery programs needed to educate them.” The courtdecided that (1) the state was constitutionally obligedto provide facilities for public school children thatensured them a “thorough and efﬁcient” educationand (2) the quality of the facilities could not dependon the districts’ willingness or ability to raise taxesor incur debt. The court required that the legislatureequalize per-pupil expenditures across poor urban andwealthy suburban districts.
constitution also requires the state toprovide a “thorough and efﬁcient” public schooleducation to the students in the state. The OhioSupreme Court held that “a thorough system couldnot mean one in which part or any number of theschool districts of the state was starved for funds. Anefﬁcient system could not mean one in which part orany number of the school districts in the state lackedteachers, buildings, or equipment.” The 1997 case,
DeRolph v. State,
declared Ohio’s entire K–12 systemwas unconstitutional; students were not receiving a“thorough and efﬁcient” education because of thedeﬁcient physical state of the schools that resultedfrom over-reliance on local property taxes and on thelack of sufﬁcient funding in the General Assembly’sbiannual budget for constructing and maintainingpublic school buildings.
: Engage stakeholders to help build andmaintain momentum for change.Arizona
redesigned its education capital expenditureﬁnance system from one that relied heavily on localproperty taxes to one that placed primary responsibilityon the state. This change took place over a seven-year period. While it began with a lawsuit in 1991, itwas reinvigorated in 1995 by a public engagementprocess initiated by the State Superintendent of PublicInstruction and formalized by the Students FIRSTstatute that was enacted in 1998.Inaction on the part of legislators and the governorfollowing the lawsuit had prompted the StateSuperintendent to convene a three-day EducationFinance summit in 1995. The summit was attendedby a diverse array of stakeholders, from legislatorsto parents. Signiﬁcant media coverage of this eventhelped to build and maintain momentum aroundschool facilities ﬁnance reform.