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Quality Education in the States
For students (and their parents) who are not in special education or subject to suspension, the most important issue is the quality of education that they receive on a daily basis in regular classrooms. The quality of education a child receives typically depends on teacher and curriculum quality, which are often left to the discretion of local school districts. Regardless of their state, children frequently have a right to a quality education or an education that is roughly equal to what children in other schools or districts receive. Any time that your child is receiving poor or unequal instructional opportunities, it is important to remember that your child’s rights may be violated, regardless of whether or not the cause is discrimination.
Beyond this general understanding of your child’s rights, it is helpful for parents to know where their students’ rights are coming from (the federal, state, or local level).
- In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that education is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution protects students’ education rights when students are the victim of some other form of constitutionally prohibited discrimination.
- THEREFORE, in most cases, student rights come from the state level.
- All state constitutions have an education or equality clause that places obligations on states and local school districts on the way that they deliver education.
As a parent, it is important to remember, however, that the exact nature of your child’s right will vary from state to state because the language in each state’s constitution varies, as does the courts’ interpretation of this constitutional language and the obligation it imposes. Thus, it is important to consult the following summaries of the constitutional language in your state and legal interpretations. As you consult the educational rights in your state or other states, it is necessary to have some context for what phrases such as “fundamental right,” “adequate education,” and “equal educational opportunity” mean. Each of these phrases has a distinct meaning and confers specific rights on students.
- Important Terminology
Fundamental Right to Education:
• Students have the right to education given the *maximum* level of protections under their state’s constitution
• Any inequalities in education will be subject to heavy scrutiny and rejected by courts unless the school has an extremely important justification.
• Guaranteed by some state constitutions
Right to Equal Educational Opportunity:
• Right to equal educational opportunities between schools or districts
• State must enact school financing schemes that ensure that students in every district have roughly equal access to educational resources
• May require that states provide additional resources to poorer districts or districts that have a large number of students who are “at-risk” for educational failure due to poverty, language or disability.
• Guaranteed through provisions by most state constitutions
Right to Adequate Education:
•Right to a sound basic education, high quality education, a meaningful education or a thorough education for all students regardless of disability.
• If students do not receive this level of education, the state and/or school district must remedy the deficiencies in the educational program.
• Guaranteed by almost all states
*States with courts that do not recognize education under their constitutions
leave educational matters to law-making bodies and local school districts.
Basics of Quality Education
The Alaska Constitution states that “The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State.” Alaska Const. art. VII, s 1. While the Alaska Supreme Court has yet to enforce any rights created by this constitutional clause, trial courts have. Alaskan trial courts have found that education is a fundamental right in the state and that inequalities in school facility funding and inadequacies in educational opportunities violate the state constitution. One court further added that the state constitution affords children a meaningful educational opportunity and that the state is responsible for ensuring students receive it. That court focused, in particular, on underperforming school districts whose curriculum is not properly aligned with state standards and where the state has done little to intervene with targeted policies to address problems such as low teacher quality and inadequate pre-kindergarten opportunities. In short, courts that have addressed the question have found that students have a fundamental right to education under their state constitution that demands both equal and quality educational opportunities.
The Arizona Constitution states that “The Legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system . . .” Ariz.Const. art. XI, s 1. The Arizona Supreme Court has found that education is a fundamental right in the state and that it is the state’s, not the local school districts’, responsibility to ensure a general and uniform education for all students. The state must maintain an educational system that eliminates or prevents gross inequalities between school districts. In creating the various districts and delegating authority to them, schools and districts “need not be exactly the same, identical, or equal.” It is enough that they are substantially equal. But the education in each district must be “adequate” in terms of its quality and the state must remedy “gross disparities” between districts that undermine students’ ability to receive an adequate education. Relying on these principles, the Arizona Supreme Court has previously struck down the state school financing system as relying too heavily on local property values and producing unconstitutional disparities between districts.
The Arkansas Constitution states that “The State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.” Ark. Const. art. XIV, s. 1. The Arkansas Supreme Court has not yet recognized education as a fundamental right that would require the utmost protections, but it has held that the constitution requires equal and adequate educational opportunities, which are “basic to our society.” It noted that education “is the very essence and foundation of a civilized culture;” “the cohesive element that binds the fabric of our society together;” and “the essential prerequisite that allows our citizens to be able to appreciate, claim and effectively realize their established rights.”
Thus, while not a fundamental right, education must be delivered equally within the state and the opportunities that students receive must be of sufficient quality to prepare them for citizenship, later employment, and higher education. Relying on these principles, the Arkansas Supreme Court has previously struck down the state’s school finance system and ordered it to invest additional funds in the system. It emphasized that anytime a school district falls short of delivering an equal or adequate education, it is the state’s responsibility to rectify it. “If local government fails, the state government must compel it to act, and if the local government cannot carry the burden, the state must itself meet its continuing obligation.”
The California state constitution, in three different places, speaks to education. The constitution indicates that: 1) “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.”; 2) “The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district . . .”; and 3) “From all state revenues there shall first be set apart the monies to be applied by the state for support of the public school system and public institutions of higher education.” Relying on these constitutional clauses, the California Supreme Court has held that education in California is a fundamental right and that inequalities infringing on this right are subject to strict scrutiny. The court has also found there is a connection between the money available to support education in a school district and the quality of education that the district delivers, as well as student achievement. Thus, in the 1970’s,the court struck down those aspects of the state’s financing system that lead to financial inequalities between districts and “conditio[n] educational opportunity on the taxable wealth of the district in which the student attends school.” In 1999, students attending low quality schools again challenged the state’s financing scheme as violating their rights. The state settled their claim prior to any court decision by agreeing to invest an additional $800 million in school facilities in coming years. Equally important, the state agreed to set up a complaint process for notifying the state of local inadequacies, and also a fund for remedying these inadequacies.
The Colorado Constitution states that “The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously.” Colo. Const. art. IX, s. 2. In 1982, the Colorado Supreme Court held that education is not a fundamental right under the state constitution and absolute equality is not required between the various districts. However, subsequent lawsuits argued that the financing system was so flawed that some children were not even receiving a basic education and that deteriorating school facilities deprived students of educational opportunities. While these claims were never validated by higher courts, they did prompt the state to take certain corrective actions. Most recently, a lawsuit against the state asserted that its underfunding of schools was depriving student of their constitutional right to an adequate education. The Supreme Court in 2008 held that plaintiffs may pursue this claim and has directed the trial court to entertain evidence on this question. In short, the courts in Colorado have yet to recognize a right to a quality education, but have taken recent steps toward that end.
The Connecticut Constitution states that “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state.” Conn. Const. art. 8, s 1. The state supreme court has held that education is a fundamental right in Connecticut and that inequalities between school districts are subject to strict scrutiny. The state has a responsibility to maintain a school financing system that “provide[s] a substantially equal educational opportunity to its youth in its free public elementary and secondary schools.” In 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court also held that the constitution guarantees students an adequate education. A lower court is now assessing whether the state has provided sufficient resources and standards for children to receive that education. One aspect of the right to education in Connecticut is unique. The state supreme court has famously held that racial segregation, whether intentional or intentional, violates students’ rights to an equal education. The court did not specify the remedy for this violation, but required the state to develop one, which ultimately included additional spending on magnet schools and a transfer program between the Hartford city schools and the surrounding suburbs.
In 1998, Florida amended the education clause of its constitution. It now states that “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education…” The most recent state supreme court decision addressing the right to education was decided under the state’s old education clause, which stated “adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform system of free public schools and for the establishment, maintenance and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.” Interpreting this old education clause, the Florida Supreme Court held that a “uniform system of free public schools” did not require equal quality or funding amongst school districts. Moreover, the legislature has discretion as to the maintenance of schools and, thus, the Court indicated it lacked the authority to second-guess the legislature. The new educational clause quoted above was enacted in response to this court decision. The language of the new clause is one of the most strongly worded in the nation as it emphasizes education as a “fundamental value,” a “paramount duty of the state,” and requiring the provision of “high quality” opportunities. The Supreme Court has yet to decide a case under this new clause and lower courts have varied in their interpretation of it. The most recent case, however, indicated that plaintiffs had a right to pursue a claim under the new clause and that to hold otherwise would render the enactment of the new clause pointless.
The Georgia Constitution states that “The provision of an adequate education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia, the expense of which shall be provided for by taxation.” Ga. Const. art. VIII, s. I, Par. I. In 1981, the Georgia Supreme Court refused to hold that education is a fundamental right, but recognized that the “Georgia constitution thus contains very specific provisions relating to the obligation of localities to impose a tax for the maintenance of the public schools and general provisions imposing a duty on the state and General Assembly to provide its citizens an ‘adequate education.’” These requirements, however, do not require that state equalize educational opportunities. Rather, the constitution only requires that the state “provide basic educational opportunities to its citizens.” The Court was reluctant to go any further than this because if believed doing so would encroach on the legislature’s discretion in providing education.
Idaho’s constitution states: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Idaho. Const. art. 9, s. 1. In 1975, the state supreme court refused to recognize education as a fundamental right, but wrote that “A general and uniform system, we think, is . . . one in which every child in the state has free access to certain minimum and reasonably standardized educational and instructional facilities and opportunities to at least the 12th grade . . .and with access by each student of whatever grade to acquire those skills and training that are reasonably understood to be fundamental and basic to a sound education.” Moreover, in a more recent decision the Idaho Supreme Court recognized that the constitutional guarantee of a “thorough” education affords students the right to challenge the adequacy or quality of their education. The state supreme court has also recognized the right of students to attend schools in quality facilities “that offer a safe environment conducive to learning,” and has ordered the state on several occasions to remedy school facility deficiencies.
The Illinois Constitution states that “A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities. The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law. The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” Ill. Const.1970, art. X, s. 1. Notwithstanding this strong constitutional language, in 1996, the state supreme court held that education is not a fundamental right, but rather a goal, meaning that the state should aspire to provide the best schools it can, but individuals cannot challenge failures to achieve that goal in court. As to inequalities between districts, the court found that the state’s interest in local control justified the various disparities between school districts. The court further emphasized that questions relating to school financing and quality were better addressed by voters and the legislature than the courts.
The Kentucky Constitution states that “The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the state.” Ky. Const. s. 183. The Kentucky Supreme Court has held that education is a fundamental right in Kentucky and includes a substantive component that entitles students to an adequate education. The Court famously held that an adequate education includes “at least the seven following capacities: (i) sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization; (ii) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices; (iii) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation; (iv) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness; (v) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage; (vi) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and (vii) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.” It is the state’s responsibility to design a tax scheme and provide the necessary funds for schools to deliver this adequate education.
The Louisiana Constitution states “The legislature shall provide for the education of the people of the state and shall establish and maintain a public educational system”, and that the state “annually develop and adopt a formula which shall be used to determine the cost of a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools, as well as to equitably allocate the funds to city and parish school systems.” La. Const. art. VIII, s.1, 8. The Louisiana courts have held that education is not a fundamental right in the state, nor does the constitution require the legislature to provide for an adequate education. It is enough that the state provides some funding for schools, as the constitution only requires a “minimum” program. Subsequently, plaintiffs have charged that the state is not even providing minimum funding, as facility costs, for instance, are not included in state aid. But these plaintiffs have yet to have their claims validated.
The Maine Constitution states: “A general diffusion of the advantages of education being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people; to promote this important object, the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools.” Me. Const. art. VIII, pt. 1, s. 1. In 1995, the Maine Supreme Court refused to decide whether education is a fundamental right, holding that even if it were, there was no evidence that the state’s funding scheme violated such a right. In particular, the Court emphasized that there was no right to equal funding from the state under the constitution. Rather, the constitution merely obligates the state to ensure local districts are supporting education. The Court, however, was careful to leave open the possibility that students had a right to an adequate education under the constitution.
The Maryland constitution states that “The General Assembly, at its First Session after the adoption of this Constitution, shall by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.” Md. Const. art. 8, s. 1. In 1983, Maryland’s highest court rejected the notion that education is a fundamental right under its constitution and, thus, refused to scrutinize inequalities between school districts. It did, however, recognize that students have a right to an adequate education, but the court found that there was no evidence indicating students were deprived of this right. Subsequent lower courts have found otherwise in regard to the Baltimore City Schools and enforced this right to an adequate education there.
The Massachusetts Constitution declares that “It shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth, to cherish … the public schools and grammar schools in the towns.” Mass. Const. Part II, c. 5, s. 2. The highest court in Massachusetts has held that the constitution guarantees students an “adequate” education. An “adequately educated child must possess oral and written communications skills, knowledge of economic, social, and political systems, understanding of governmental processes, self-knowledge and knowledge of mental and physical wellness, grounding in the arts, occupational training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields, and sufficient level of academic or vocational skills to enable him or her to compete favorably with counterparts in surrounding states.” While the legislature may “assign some responsibilities for education to the local communities of the Commonwealth[,] . . . the ultimate responsibility for educating the public” remains with the legislature. Thus, to the extent students do not receive an adequate education, it is the legislature’s responsibility to remedy the deficiency.
The Michigan Constitution states that “The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law.” Mich. Const. art. 8, s. 2. The Michigan Supreme Court rejected the claim that the constitution requires equality of educational opportunity or expenditures in the various districts. In 1973, it indicated that “the state’s obligation to provide a system of public schools is not the same as the claimed obligation to provide equality of educational opportunity. Because of definitional difficulties and differences in educational philosophy and student ability, motivation, background, etc., no system of public schools can provide equality of educational opportunity in all its diverse dimensions. All that can properly be expected of the state is that it maintain and support a system of public schools that furnishes adequate educational services to all children.” The question of whether students have a right to an adequate education, however, was not specifically before the court and has never been ruled on. In 1993, the state eliminated the use of local property tax to support schools and, in some respects, rendered the constitutional issue of the state’s responsibility to ensure equity between school districts moot, although the question of adequacy may still exist.
The Minnesota Constitution states: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.” Minn. Const. art. XIII. The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that there is a “fundamental right to a basic level of funding,” but that right does not require equality of spending among districts. In effect, the Court recognized a fundamental right to an adequate education, deprivations of which might be subject to higher scrutiny, but held that inequalities between districts do not themselves raise constitutional concerns so long as students receive an adequate education. The Court wrote: “The method the legislature has chosen is narrowly tailored to the end of having as much money spent on education as is feasible, while at the same time providing a funding floor beneath which the education of any individual student may not sink. It is important to note that ‘adequacy’ as used here refers not to some minimal floor but to the measure of the need that must be met. In this case, where the funding is ‘more than adequate,’ such a system satisfies the constitutional requirement.” Plaintiffs subsequently filed a claim against the state based on inadequacy in Minneapolis and the state settled the lawsuit and provided a remedy.
The Missouri Constitution states: “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and maintain free public schools in this state within ages not excess of twenty-one years as prescribed by law.” Mo. Const. art. IX, s. 1(a). It further provides that “In event the public school fund provided and set apart by law for the support of free public schools shall be insufficient to sustain free schools at least eight months in every year in each school district of the state, the general assembly may provide for such deficiency; but in no case shall there be set apart less than twenty-five percent of the state revenue, exclusive of interest and sinking fund, to be applied annually to the support of the free public schools.” Mo. Const. art. IX, s. 3. It also describes a duty to “sacredly preserv[e]” public school funds and that they be put to “no other uses or purposes whatsoever.” Mo. Const. art. IX, s. 5. The Missouri Supreme Court has rejected the claim that these constitutional clauses create a fundamental right to equal educational funding or a constitutional right to an adequate education. In effect, the educational rights are those specifically articulated in the constitution, such as the requirement that the state provide 25 percent of school funding. Beyond that, the state is vested with significant discretion.
The Montana Constitution states: “(1) It is the goal of the people to establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person. Equality of educational opportunity is guaranteed to each person of the state. (2) The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity. (3) The legislature shall provide a basic system of free quality public elementary and secondary schools. The legislature may provide such other educational institutions, public libraries, and educational programs as it deems desirable. It shall fund and distribute in an equitable manner to the school districts the state’s share of the cost of the basic elementary and secondary school system.” Mont. Const. art. X, s. 1. In 1989, the Montana Supreme Court held that “the plain meaning of the second sentence of subsection (1) is that each person is guaranteed equality of educational opportunity. The plain meaning of that sentence is clear and unambiguous.” Thus, “the guarantee of equality of educational opportunity applies to each person of the State of Montana, and is binding upon all branches of government whether at the state, local, or school district level.” The stated discretion in subsection (3) in no way detracts from this right. Based on this right, the Court found that “the spending disparities among the State’s school districts [in 1985-86] translate into a denial of equality of educational opportunity.” More recently, in 2005, the state supreme court recognized that, in addition to equality of opportunity, the state constitution also guarantees students a quality education and that it was the state’s responsibility to define the meaning of a quality education and implement it.
The Nebraska Constitution states that “The Legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools of the state of all persons between the ages of 5 and 21.” Neb. Const. art. VII, s. 1. In 1993, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected the argument that the state constitution requires equal funding and found that the existing funding inequities were not so large as to indicate that students were deprived of an adequate education. In effect, the court rejected the equity claim, but left open the possibility that it would later recognize a right to an adequate education. Nonetheless, the Court more recently refused to hear adequacy claims, holding that they present political questions that are reserved to the discretion of the legislature.
- New Hampshire
The New Hampshire Constitution provides that: “Knowledge and learning generally diffused through a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; and spreading the opportunities and advantages of education… being highly conducive to promote this end; it shall be the duty of the legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this government, to cherish the interest of . . . public schools.” N.H. Const. pt. II, art. 83. In 1993, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that “a constitutionally adequate public education is a fundamental right.” Thus, the State has a duty “to provide a constitutionally adequate education to every educable child in the public schools in New Hampshire and to guarantee adequate funding.” The state may delegate certain aspects of its duty to school districts but “in the first instance, it is the legislature’s obligation, not that of individual members of the board of education, to establish educational standards that comply with constitutional requirements.” Moreover, the requirement that education be generally diffused prohibits an education system that permits wide disparities in funding between districts.
- New Jersey
The New Jersey Constitution states that “The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in this state between the ages of five and eighteen.” The New Jersey Supreme Court has issued approximately twenty decisions on the right to education and funding for it. The Court has consistently upheld students’ rights and ordered the state to take those actions necessary to see that children receive a proper education. The core holdings from these decisions are that every child in the state is entitled to an “equal educational opportunity” and that the state must provide schools with adequate funding for students to receive this opportunity. The Court has also recognized that equal educational opportunity includes the right to a qualitatively adequate education. Most important, the Court acknowledged that some students face disadvantages outside of schools that present challenges within school. But the Court held that it is the state’s responsibility to provide these students with the resources and opportunities necessary to overcome these disadvantages.
- New York
The New York Constitution indicates that “[t]he legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.” Article XI, § 1 N.Y. Const. The highest court in New York has held that this constitutional language is not “hortatory,” but establishes a “constitutional floor” with respect to students’ education rights. Students are entitled to a “sound basic education,” which includes the “basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury.” Although indicating the list was not exhaustive, the Court emphasized certain basic aspects of an adequate education are effectively beyond dispute, writing that “Children are entitled to minimally adequate physical facilities and classrooms which provide enough light, space, heat, and air to permit children to learn. Children should have access to minimally adequate instrumentalities of learning such as desks, chairs, pencils, and reasonably current textbooks. Children are also entitled to minimally adequate teaching of reasonably up-to-date basic curricula such as reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies, by sufficient personnel adequately trained to teach those subject areas.”
- North Carolina
The North Carolina Constitution states that “The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.” N.C. Const. art. I, s. 15. The state supreme court has found that students have a fundamental right to a sound basic education. The state does not have to perfectly equalize resources and opportunities throughout the state, but it must see that sufficient resources are available in each district for students to receive a sound basic education. Like other courts, the North Carolina Supreme Court defined a sound basic education as “one that will provide the student with at least: (1) sufficient ability to read, write, and speak the English language and a sufficient knowledge of fundamental mathematics and physical science to enable the student to function in a complex and rapidly changing society; (2) sufficient fundamental knowledge of geography, history, and basic economic and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices with regard to issues that affect the student personally or affect the student’s community, state, and nation; (3) sufficient academic and vocational skills to enable the student to successfully engage in post-secondary education or vocational training; and (4) sufficient academic and vocational skills to enable the student to compete on an equal basis with others in further formal education or gainful employment in contemporary society.” The Court has also emphasized the state’s responsibility to take specific steps to “to meet the needs of ‘at-risk’ students in order for such students to avail themselves of their right to the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.”
- North Dakota
The North Dakota Constitution states that: “A high degree of intelligence, patriotism, integrity and morality on the part of every voter in a government by the people being necessary in order to insure the continuance of that government and the prosperity and happiness of the people, the legislative assembly shall make provision for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools . . .” N.D.Const. art. VIII, s 147. The North Dakota Supreme Court has held that education is a fundamental right. The Court refrained from applying strict scrutiny or demanding absolute equality of resources among districts, but held that the means the state chooses to finance and deliver education must “bear a close correspondence to the achievement of the constitutionally mandated goal of an equal educational opportunity.” In effect, the Court required that that the distribution of resources be related to some “aspect of educational needs, or educational cost per pupil.”
The Ohio Constitution states that “The general assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State; but, no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state.” Ohio Const. art. VI, s. 2. The Ohio Supreme Court has refrained from treating education as a fundamental right, but has held that the constitutional mandate of a thorough and efficient education requires that the state provide adequate funding to school districts so that they can deliver a thorough and efficient education. When districts are starved for funds, students attend schools that are in deplorable conditions, and students achieve at low levels, it cannot be said that the state is providing a through and efficient education.
The Oklahoma Constitution states that “Provisions shall be made for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools, which shall be open to all the children of the state and free from sectarian control; and said schools shall always be conducted in English: Provided, that nothing herein shall preclude the teaching of other languages in said public schools.” Okla. Const. art. 1, s. 5. In addition, “The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.” Okla. Const. art. 13, s.1. The Oklahoma Supreme Court assumed that even if education was a fundamental right, it would not require equality of funding amongst school systems. The Court recognized that the Constitution did create a right to a “basic, adequate education,” although the meaning of an adequate education and how it is implemented is largely left to the discretion of the legislature.
The Oregon Constitution states that “The Legislative Assembly shall provide by law for the establishment of a uniform and general system of Common schools.” Or. Const. art. VIII, s. 3. The Oregon Supreme Court has held that education is not a fundamental right and that the “[p]rovision in Oregon Constitution requiring a uniform system of schools is complied with if the State requires and provides for a minimum of educational opportunities in the district and permits the districts to exercise local control over what they desire and can furnish, over the minimum, and provision was not violated by system of school financing over which the amount of money available for education depends upon the value of the property in the individual school districts.” The Court focused on those aspects of the Oregon Constitution that provide for home rule by cities and counties, finding that this aspect of the Constitution necessarily allowed for significant local variations in educational opportunities. To violate the constitution, students would have to effectively be denied of “an education or of the use of some of the tools and programs believed to enhance education.” In short, the state must provide some minimal quality of education, but the court indicated that bar was relatively low.
The Pennsylvania Constitution states that “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the commonwealth.” Penn. Const. art. 3, s. 14. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, has held that the constitution does not confer any individual rights on students or guarantee them a “specific level of quality” in education. Rather, the constitution simply imposes a duty on the legislature to provide a “through and efficient” education, which is met so long as the legislature’s chosen funding method has a “reasonable relation” to providing for the maintenance of the public school system. In short, the legislature has wide discretion in implementing and supporting education, and the Court has rejected equity and adequacy claims that attempt to constrain or structure that discretion.
- Rhode Island
The Rhode Island Constitution states that: “The diffusion of knowledge, as well as of virtue among the people, being essential to the preservation of their rights and liberties, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to promote public schools and public libraries, and to adopt all means which it may deem necessary and proper to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education and public library services.” R.I. Const. Art. XII, s. 1. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has held that education is not a fundamental right under its constitution and that education is not a “generally judicially enforceable right.” Thus, educational inequities do not violate the state constitution, absent a basic failure to provide education or an irrational system of providing it. The Court did not suggest that the educational system lacked potential flaws, but that those flaws were to be resolved in the legislature, not the courts. Advocates, however, have more recently brought suit claiming that circumstances have changed over the past two decades. In particular, the state legislature has adopted various statutes and regulations that set qualitative standards that the courts can enforce. The state supreme court has yet to rule on this claim.
The Tennessee Constitution states that “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Tenn. Const. art. 11, s. 12. In the early 1990’s, the Court found that the constitution “imposes upon the General Assembly the obligation to maintain and support a system of free public schools that affords substantially equal educational opportunities to all students.” The court did not address whether education was a fundamental right or students had a qualitative education right because it concluded that the state’s financing system was unconstitutional under even the most deferential standards. In short, “we can find no constitutional basis for the present system, as it has no rational bearing on the educational needs of the districts.” “The proof before us fails to show a legitimate state interest justifying the granting to some citizens, educational opportunities that are denied to other citizens similarly situated, and, thus, fails to satisfy even the ‘rational basis’ test applied in equal protection cases.” As a result, the state was required to adopt means to equalize finances among school districts, particularly in regard to teacher salaries.
The Texas Constitution states that: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” Tex. Const. art. VII, s. 1. In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court held that this clause required that the state provide students with “substantially equal” opportunities to gain access to educational expenditures. The state need not ensure the exact same expenditures in each district, but it does require the state to ensure property poor districts have access to resources necessary to deliver the required education. “There must be a direct and close correlation between a district’s tax effort and the educational resources available to it; in other words, districts must have substantially equal access to similar revenues per pupil at similar levels of tax effort. Children who live in poor districts and children who live in rich districts must be afforded a substantially equal opportunity to have access to educational funds.” The state supreme court has also indicated more recently that the state has an obligation to ensure that school districts are “reasonably able to provide all of their students with a meaningful opportunity to acquire the essential knowledge and skills reflected in…curriculum requirements….” In short, the Court has recognized both equity and adequacy rights in the state.
The Vermont Constitution states that “Laws for the encouragement of virtue and prevention of vice and immorality ought to be constantly kept in force, and duly executed; and a competent number of schools ought to be maintained in each town unless the general assembly permits other provisions for the convenient instruction of youth . . .” Vt. Const., s. 64. The Vermont Supreme Court did not specifically decide whether education is a fundamental right. But it did indicate that “in Vermont the right to education is so integral to our constitutional form of government, and its guarantees of political and civil rights, that any statutory framework that infringes upon the equal enjoyment of that right bears a commensurate heavy burden of justification.” And regardless of what level of scrutiny the court applied, the “State has not provided a persuasive rationale for the undisputed inequities in the current educational funding system.” The Court held that “to fulfill its constitutional obligation the state must ensure substantial equality of educational opportunity throughout Vermont.” It is not enough that “some minimal level of opportunity is provided to all.” In short, the Court required the state to deliver equitable educational opportunities and intimated that some level adequacy is also relevant.
The Virginia Constitution states: “That free government rests, as does all progress, upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge, and that the Commonwealth should avail itself of those talents which nature has sown so liberally among its people by assuring the opportunity for their fullest development by an effective system of education throughout the Commonwealth.” Va. Const. Art. 1, s. 15. It also states that “The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.” Art. 8, s. 1. In 1994, the Virginia Supreme Court acknowledged that education is a fundamental right under its state constitution, but found that the education clauses do not mandate equal school funding or a particular level of quality in education. Rather, the “General Assembly shall determine the manner in which funds are to be provided for the cost of maintaining an educational program meeting the prescribed standards of quality.” In short, while education is a fundamental right, the constitution “does not impose a mandate upon the General Assembly” other than to “provide for a system of free public schools throughout the Commonwealth.” Substantive issues of financing and quality are left to the General Assembly’s discretion. The issue of whether the General Assembly was meeting its own qualitative standard’s, however, was not decided.
The Washington Constitution provides that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders . . .” and that the “legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools . . .” Wash. Const. art. 9, s. 1, 2. In the late 1970s, the Washington Supreme Court treated education as a fundamental right and found that the constitutional requirement of a “general and uniform” system of public schools is a “paramount” duty of the legislature. The Constitution “requires, as a first priority, fully sufficient funds for the ‘general and uniform system of public schools’ which the Legislature is obligated to establish.” “[A]ll children residing within the State’s borders have a ‘right’ to be amply provided with an education. That ‘right’ is constitutionally paramount and must be achieved through a ‘general and uniform system of public schools.’” Moreover, the Court recognized a substantive qualitative requirement, writing that “Education plays a critical role in a free society. It must prepare our children to participate intelligently and effectively in our open political system to ensure that system’s survival. It must prepare them to exercise their First Amendment freedoms both as sources and receivers of information; and, it must prepare them to be able to inquire, to study, to evaluate and to gain maturity and understanding. The constitutional right to have the State ‘make ample provision for the education of all (resident) children would be hollow indeed if the possessor of the right could not compete adequately in our open political system, in the labor market, or in the market place of ideas.’”
- West Virginia
The West Virginia Constitution states that “The legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” W.V. Const. art. 12, s. 1. The West Virginia Supreme Court has held that education is a fundamental right in the state. In addition, the “through and efficient” language in the constitution requires the state to provide students with a quality education. A thorough and efficient system of schools “develops, as best the state of education expertise allows, the minds, bodies and social morality of its charges to prepare them for useful and happy occupations, recreation and citizenship, and does so economically.” The Court further specified that the elements of this education include the “development in every child to his or her capacity of: (1) literacy; (2) ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers; (3) knowledge of government to the extent that the child will be equipped as a citizen to make informed choices among persons and issues that affect his own governance; (4) self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her total environment to allow the child to intelligently choose life work to know his or her options; (5) work-training and advanced academic training as the child may intelligently choose; (6) recreational pursuits; (7) interests in all creative arts, such as music, theatre, literature, and the visual arts; (8) social ethics, both behavioral and abstract, to facilitate compatibility with others in this society.” A thorough an efficient education also requires “supportive services”, which include: “(1) good physical facilities, instructional materials and personnel; (2) careful state and local supervision to prevent waste and to monitor pupil, teacher and administrative competency.”
The Wyoming Constitution states that “The Legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a complete and uniform system of public instruction, embracing free elementary schools of every needed kind and grade.” Wyo. Const. art. 7, s. 1. In addition, “The legislature shall make such further provisions by taxation or otherwise, as with the income arising from the general school fund will create and maintain a thorough and efficient system of public schools, adequate to the proper instruction of all [school age] youth of the state. . .” Wyo. Const. art. 7, s. 9. The Wyoming Supreme Court held that education is a fundamental right. It also recognized both a right to equitable and adequate educational expenditures and opportunities, although it recognized that local realities would affect the meaning of equity. It wrote “We only express the constitutional standard and hold that whatever system is adopted by the legislature, it must not create a level of spending which is a function of wealth other than the wealth of the state as a whole… we wish to make clear that we are not suggesting that each school district receive exactly the same number of dollars per pupil as every other school district. We understand that there are special problems and amounts may be distributed in a mode similar to the foundation fund which takes into consideration various balancing factors.” The Court indicated that the legislature should ensure that high school graduates are equipped for their future roles as citizens and competitors in the workplace, as well as small class sizes, appropriate opportunities for at-risk students, and meaningful standards and assessments.