Educational Equity and Quality: Brown and Rodriguez and Their Aftermath
Educational Equity and Quality:
Brown and Rodriguez and Their Aftermath
The College Board Forum, November 3, 2003
In May, we observe an important fiftieth anniversary. I am not referring to Roger Bannister’s running the first sub-four-minute mile on May 6. I am referring, of course, to Brown v. the Board of Education, which was handed down eleven days later. In that unanimous decision, written clearly and succinctly by Chief Justice Earl Warren so that it could be understood by all Americans, the Supreme Court dramatically affected the quality and character of public education in this country. It defined what “equal educational opportunity” means in a racial context, and clearly articulated, with inspirational power, the importance of education—to individuals and to the national as a whole. The Court wrote:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education in our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. [And listen especially to this next sentence:] Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. Id., at 493.
Few people, if any, would argue about the centrality of education in our country today. Indeed education is probably even more important now than it was fifty years ago. What conclusions follow from that recognition are a matter of great debate, however.
Brown is a case, I would assert, about at least four separate but related things. Brown is, of course, a case about segregation; the court struck down de jure racial segregation in public schools, and in so doing set the stage for ending de jure segregation generally. And yet fifty years later, de facto segregation in primary and secondary education and in society is on the rise; and too often, neither minority nor majority students garner the educational and social benefits that come from being part of a diverse student body.
Brown was about segregation, but it was also about a theory of education. It stands for the proposition that racially separate education is inherently unequal. It lays the legal and educational foundation for the recent Supreme Court decisions in Grutter and Gratz v. Bollinger, involving the admissions policies at selective colleges and universities across the country. Those cases state explicitly that diversity in an educational context contributes to the education of all, and society as a whole. And so the fact that de facto segregation is so common across our country is even more disappointing.
Brown is about not only segregation and about a theory of education; it is also about equity in education. Indeed the underlying value in Brown is perhaps as much equity as it is desegregation. The Court concluded that it was impossible for racially segregated education to be equal—and so public education had to be racially integrated.
Of course, equitable mediocrity in education was not what was sought by either blacks or whites. Brown was not about an equal lack of education opportunity for white and black students, rich and poor. Equity in educational funding and opportunity means, of course, that all students of all backgrounds have available to them at least an adequate education.
These four themes or ideals—desegregation, a theory of education that recognizes the harms that come with segregated education and the benefits of integrated education, equity of educational opportunity, and educational quality—remain the themes and ideals that the courts and our society have continued to wrestle with for the last half century. Our national commitment to these ideas and our progress toward them have differed depending on the idea, and they have ebbed and flowed over the last five decades. The real issue is what are our ideals today, and how committed are we to implementing them in practice.
In the years before Brown, the legal team at the NAACP deliberately chose a legal strategy that challenged educational segregation head on, rather than seeking to mitigate the inequity that existed between black and white schools. That was, of course, the right strategy, both on pragmatic and principled grounds. Our educational system, our citizenry, and our nation are all better as a result. And yet, now, fifty years after Brown, we still struggle with the tenacious challenge of educational equity generally. We do so in a racial context because of de facto segregation and because of the correlation between race and wealth, but we also wrestle with it in an economic context, given the fact that public education relies so heavily on property taxes. We know that many of the school districts that are the most property-poor are heavily minority districts. (Currently more than two-thirds of the black and Latino students in this country attend essentially segregated schools in which most students are also poor.)
One of the key obstacles to equal education remains, therefore, unequal funding for public education. Despite that inspiring and apparently egalitarian language in Brown, another Supreme Court decision handed down thirty years ago stands as a formidable impediment to achieving equity in public school financing. And so even as we anticipate celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Brown, we should also reexamine the issues and reasoning of Rodriguez v. San Antonio Independent School District, 411 US 1 (1973) and consider the legal and educational challenges that continue in its wake.
Today I want to do just that—reexamine Rodriguez, consider two lines of legal argument that have been pursued in the years since Rodriguez, and finally, suggest possible avenues for further progress toward equity and quality public education. After all, the title of today’s forum, Providing a Quality Education for All Students, speaks to both equity and quality.
One might note that in these two cases—Brown and Rodriguez, one sees signs of the evolving history and demographics of our nation—one a 1954 case dealing with African American students segregated from white students, the other dealing with a Texas school district, ninety percent Hispanic American and six percent African-American that was grossly under-funded compared with neighboring, largely white school districts. Of course, the civil and educational rights of African American and Hispanic Americans—indeed all Americans—are inextricably related—as you will see in the story of Rodriguez.
On May 16, 1968 (which I can’t help but notice, was just six weeks after the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.), 400 students from Edgewood High School in San Antonio staged a walkout and demonstration. Among their grievances were inadequate supplies and the lack of qualified teachers. Parents formed an advocacy group, and a class action law suit was filed in federal court. The plaintiffs argued that their school district had among the highest tax rates in the county but raised dramatically less per student than the nearby wealthy district, the predominantly “Anglo” Alamo Heights district.
As Justice White would later note in dissent, the District Court “postponed decision for some two years in the hope that the Texas Legislature would remedy the gross disparities in treatment inherent in the Texas financing scheme. It was only after the legislature failed to act in its 1971 Regular Session that the District Court, apparently recognizing the lack of hope for self-initiated legislative reform, rendered its decision.”
The District Court held that the state’s school-finance system violated the United States Constitution. It found that wealth is a suspect classification and that education is a fundamental right, and therefore the law could be upheld as constitutional only upon a showing that the state had a compelling state interest for the finance system. The court concluded that not only was there no showing of a compelling state interest that necessitated this specific means of achieving the goal, but there was not even a reasonable or rational reason for funding education the way the state had.
When Texas appealed the case to the Supreme Court, the attorneys general of twenty-five states filed amicus briefs. They supported not the State of Texas and its law, but Rodriguez. Plaintiffs’ spirits were also buoyed by the fact that in 1971, in Serrano v. Priest, the California Supreme Court had held that the California education finance system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and comparable sections of the state constitution.
The Supreme Court handed down its decision in March 1973, thirty years ago this year. (I was at that time a clerk to the Chief Justice.) The vote was 5-4. The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the gross disparities in funding among school districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, stating that under the federal constitution, education was not a fundamental right. Had just one of five justices voted the other way, public education funding—and public education itself—might look very different today.
Parent Demetrio Rodriguez said, “The poor people have lost again.” In his dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall called the Rodriguez decision “a retreat from our historic commitment to equality of educational opportunity.” Hopes that the federal judiciary would further education finance reform were dashed. But the wheels of legal development sometimes roll slowly.
The Court’s decision that education is not a "fundamental right" is of profound significance. If education were considered a "fundamental right explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution," then courts would examine state school funding schemes that produce gross disparities in funding to different districts with great care or skepticism; the laws would receive what is called “strict scrutiny;” they would not be given the deference that the judicial branch typically gives a statute passed by the legislative branch and signed by the executive. Under "strict scrutiny,” a court would ask not merely whether a law is “reasonably related” to a “legitimate purpose,” but rather whether the means set forth in the law are “necessary” to the achievement of a “compelling state interest.” Few statutes can withstand strict scrutiny, either because there is usually another, less problematic means to achieve the same goal, or because the purpose of the law is not deemed sufficiently compelling—(i.e., so necessary that such an intrusion on our rights must be tolerated).
In Rodriguez, the Court quoted the same inspiring passage from Brown quoted above, noting that it remained equally valid, that their decision did not "in any way [detract] from our historic dedication to public education," and that they agreed with the court below that “‘the grave significance of education both to the individual and to our society' cannot be doubted.’” But, the Court added, "the importance of a service performed by the State does not determine whether it must be regarded as fundamental for purposes of examination under the Equal Protection Clause." If it did, the Court asserted, it would be acting as a "super-legislature."
The fact that earlier Supreme Court decisions had found rights such as “travel” to be “fundamental” under the 14th Amendment did not persuade the majority in Rodriguez that “education” should have the same constitutional status. Clearly, the majority was concerned about a “slippery slope:” if education were deemed a fundamental right, why not subsistence or housing? The majority’s language expresses this deep worry: "It is not,” the majority said, “the province of this Court to create substantive constitutional rights in the name of guaranteeing equal protection of the laws. Thus, the key to discovering whether education is 'fundamental' is not to be found in comparisons of the relative societal significance of education as opposed to subsistence or housing. Nor is it to be found by weighing whether education is as important as the right to travel." "Rather, the answer lies in assessing whether there is a right to education explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution."
Of course, education might well be thought of as especially proximate to other basic rights protected by the Constitution, such as the right of free expression and the right to vote. And, indeed, the parents made this exact argument. But the court majority simply disagreed.
It was not persuaded by the argument "that the right to speak is meaningless unless the speaker is capable of articulating his thoughts intelligently and persuasively [; that] the 'marketplace of ideas' is an empty forum for those lacking basic communicative tools [; and that] the corollary right to receive information becomes little more than a hollow privilege when the recipient has not been taught to read, assimilate, and utilize available knowledge."
Nor was the Court persuaded by the argument that "Exercise of the franchise. . . cannot be divorced from the educational foundation of the voter. [that]. . .a voter cannot cast his ballot intelligently unless his reading skills and thought processes have been adequately developed." It asserted that while "the Court has long protected the rights to vote and speak, it has "never presumed to possess either the ability or the authority to guarantee to the citizenry the most effective speech or the most informed electoral choice." Worthy goals though they may be, they should not be pursued by such "judicial intrusion into otherwise legitimate state activities."
The Court was concerned, therefore, not only about a “slippery slope,” but also about the values of federalism—a decision upholding the lower court decision would potentially "abrogate systems of public financing public education presently in existence in virtually every State."
In his concurrence, Justice Potter Stewart acknowledged that the method of financing schools in Texas and "in almost every other State, has resulted in a system of public education that can fairly be described as chaotic and unjust." Yet, he continued, "It does not follow, however, and I cannot find, that this system violates the Constitution of the United States." To hold otherwise, he said, with a degree of hyperbole that revealed perhaps his own doubts about his conclusion: would be "an extraordinary departure from principled adjudication under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
I cannot help but think that Rodriguez was wrongly decided, that the arguments of the four dissenting Justices (Brennan, White, Douglas, and Marshall) are persuasive, and that as a matter of educational and national policy the consequences have been nothing short of tragic. The simple fact of life is that education is the sine qua non of citizenship and all it entails. If you are educated but poor it’s harder to participate meaningfully in the democratic process-- but you still can do it. But to be uneducated is to be barred from participation, whether you are rich or poor. While I do not expect, realistically, that Rodriguez will be overturned in the short term, I do believe that in time our law should and will come to recognize a fundamental right to education under the federal constitution. Developments in the states since Rodriguez show, that there is, in fact, less to be worried about in declaring education a fundamental right than reasonably may have been feared in 1973. Moreover, they also show that, in the end, only a national constitutional norm will help our society rectify the structural injustices of public education. I now want to turn to those developments.
With the 1973 Rodriguez decision, the battle to alleviate gross disparities in public education funding shifted to the states. State courts were asked whether such funding systems violated their own constitutions. In virtually all states, schools were—and still are—operated by local districts with a mixture of funding from local property taxes and state grants (and some federal grants). Law suits challenging state education funding methods have been brought in at least 45 of the 50 states – 19 of them successfully. It is in state courts – interpreting state constitutions — that the legal battle and the policy debates remain.
Unlike the federal Constitution, which has no explicit protection for education, at least 48—if not all—state constitutions contain clauses that explicitly protect education. Therefore, plaintiffs challenging education funding laws have an easier case to make than they do under the federal constitution. There is great variety in the wording of these education clauses; some use only general education language. For example, the Connecticut Constitution states, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state.” Other clauses speak to the quality of public education – such as New Jersey’s: “The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of the 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 years.” Some clauses articulate a stronger requirement, and some state constitutions include a rather emphatic education clause, such as Washington’s, which states, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…”
The legal arguments that might be made to strike down a public education funding system depend in part on the precise language of the state constitution’s education clause. The more emphatic and specific the language, the stronger—and more numerous—the potential arguments for striking down a funding system.
In the years after Rodriguez, the cases typically relied on arguments of inequity or “equality.” For example, after the plaintiffs in Rodriguez failed in their federal constitutional claim, plaintiffs from the same Texas school district challenged the state’s education funding law under the state constitution’s education clause. This time, in Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby, the plaintiffs won: the Texas Supreme Court found the system unconstitutional because the framers of the state’s education clause, which calls for an “efficient system of public free schools,” “never contemplated that such gross inequalities could exist with an ‘efficient system’.” After multiple legislative responses and two more court challenges, a new funding approach passed state constitutional muster.
However, equity claims were not always successful, even when the language of the state constitution seems promising. In Minnesota, for example, the Supreme Court concluded that education funding differentials arising from relying on property taxes were constitutional; it rejected an argument that such a system violated the education clause, which required nothing less than “a general and uniform system of public schools.”
There is also the issue of how to define equality. As one commentator points out, states might look at the “disparity in the capacity to fund education,” the “disparity in the actual funding provided for schools in the different districts,” the “actual caliber of the educational services available to a district’s children…comparisons of school facilities, class sizes, teacher qualifications, and the like…” or, boldest of all, “the ultimate outcomes delivered by the educational system… whether children in different districts are equally well educated by their schools and equally well prepared to participate in the work place, in higher education, and in the democratic process.”
Sometimes plaintiffs have won on equity grounds even without the court concluding that a fundamental right in education warranted strict scrutiny. For example, in striking down the state’s school funding law, Vermont’s Supreme Court noted that the case does not turn on “the particular constitutional test to be employed. Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record.” While Vermont’s Supreme Court recognized the importance of local control, it noted that “The state may delegate to local towns and cities the authority to finance and administer the schools within their borders; it cannot, however, abdicate the basic responsibility for education by passing it on to local governments, which are themselves creations of the state.”
In the Vermont case, as in others, the state’s rationale for the existing school funding system is preservation of local control. As the Vermont Court noted, however, the values of equity and local control are not necessarily in conflict. It stated that “[r]egardless of how the state finances public education, it may still leave the basic decision-making power with the local districts. Moreover, insofar as ‘local control’ means the ability to decide that more money should be devoted to the education of children within a district, we have seen – as another court once wrote – that for poorer districts ‘such fiscal freewill is a cruel illusion!”
But even if there were a conflict with local autonomy, I confess I find it hard to imagine a rational reason why the funding level of a school – the funding available to educate a child – should be largely a function of the aggregate property values in the school district in which the child lives. One can well imagine that education has historically been thought of as a local matter because in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, education may have seemed to some the most local of local issues. The schoolmaster and the school house served to educate the local children. If they were not educated, it was they who suffered, not others; if they became educated, it was they who benefited. That makes some sense when the economy was agricultural, and people and their livelihood were tied to the land. But with industrialization and increased commerce comes not only greater mobility of individuals, but greater fluidity of labor and broader consequences of education. In the nineteenth century, the Morrill Act’s creation of the Land Grant colleges during the Civil War reflected the nation’s new recognition that the economic and social benefits of education flow not only to the student but also to the state and the economy at large. Moreover, as Jefferson and others keenly recognized even in the eighteenth century, broad-based public education is essential to the success of a democratic form of government. Education is the most public of all public goods.
Indeed, we see the increased role that the federal government has come to play in educational matters in recent years as it recognizes the crucial stake that the nation as a whole has in educational quality. I am thinking of initiatives from President George Bush’s 1989 National Education Summit, which set out to articulate national educational goals to recent federal legislation related to educational accountability. That increased federal involvement also reflects an acknowledgement that the federal government must play a key role in education today – despite the fact that education has historically been a jealously guarded state and local matter. This sense of an increasing stake of the society as a whole in local education will, ultimately, I believe, be reflected in the Constitution too.
Equity claims predominated in the legal challenges to education funding laws in the 1970s and 1980s, and plaintiffs won about a third of those cases, beginning with California in 1971. But since then there has been a new and intriguing development in the field of education reform, which involves an increasing number of cases focusing less on equity and more on the adequacy of education afforded students. When, in 1989, cases began to shift to making adequacy claims, plaintiffs won two-thirds of the cases, including cases in Kentucky in 1989 and in Ohio and Wyoming in 1997. Perhaps this shift and success has been due in part in recent years to the widely held feeling that public education was often failing students. While the assumption in Rodriguez was that most students were adequately served by the public education systems, in the eighties (particularly after the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983) there was a sense that the opposite was the case.
We can see the two different legal arguments or strategies for striking down state public education funding systems side by side in New England’s Twin States – New Hampshire and Vermont. In 1993, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found that the State Constitution’s education clause imposes a duty on the state to provide adequate funding for broad educational opportunities for all children. The Court did not address itself to equality arguments. The case was remanded for a determination of whether the education funding system fulfilled that obligation, and the iterative legislative process began. In Vermont, on the other hand, the state Supreme Court decided that the state’s educational funding system “deprives children of an equal educational opportunity.”
The legislative response called for by these different judicial decisions in the two states differed accordingly. In New Hampshire, the question was, essentially, how much funding was necessary or adequate. In Vermont, the question was, essentially, how to mitigate the disparity between education funding in property-wealthy towns and property-poor towns. While it is undoubtedly too early to make a judgment about these alternative approaches, a fair if tentative evaluation would be that determining “adequacy” in New Hampshire has been difficult but doable; imposing equity in Vermont has proved both difficult and divisive.
The adequacy has several distinct advantages. Each of the educational clauses in state constitutions impose an express duty on the state to provide for a system of public education. That duty – regardless of the precise wording of the education clauses – necessarily means (unless language is vacuous) that the state has an obligation to provide an adequate minimum level of education.
Moreover, unlike striking down a financing system on equity grounds, invalidating a state finance law on adequacy grounds gives rise to no “slippery slope” problem: it creates no precedent that might support assertions of other fundamental rights – to basic shelter or subsistence, for example.
Some believe that changes in school funding based on adequacy will be longer lasting than changes imposed as a result of changes designed to establish educational funding equity. Time will tell.
Concerns that establishing a right to an adequate education would result in courts and legislatures setting the constitutional definition of “adequate education” too low have proven to be largely unfounded. Many states have rejected archaic or basic competencies as standards and have arrived at seemingly rigorous definitions. The Supreme Court of Kentucky, for example, has listed seven specific standards, requiring sufficient
(i) … oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
(ii) … knowledge of economic, social and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;
(iii) … understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
(iv) … self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
(v) … grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
(vi) … training or preparation for advances training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
(vii) … levels of academic of vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.
Indeed while the Kentucky case was brought on behalf of poor school districts seeking equitable funding, the Court invalidated the entire state education system because they deemed it “inadequate and well below the national effort.”
Perhaps it should be explicitly acknowledged that there is not necessarily a linear or even inevitable correlation between the level of funding and the quality of education. A school district does not necessarily deliver a better or worse education simply because it receives more or fewer dollars than another district. But as a friend of mine is fond of saying, the race doesn’t always go to the swift, or the battle to the fittest, but that’s the way to bet. Resources do, in fact, generally correlate with quality. As the Vermont Supreme Court wrote – and indeed the state did not contest, “Unequal funding yields, at a minimum, unequal curricular, technological, and human resources.” Wealthier school districts are generally stronger than poor districts. As Demetrio Rodriguez commented in 1992, “If money is not necessary, why is it people have been fighting us over it for twenty-two years?” Or one might also ask, as others have, if money isn’t important, why do wealthy districts choose to spend so much more on education? Or consider the answer of the New Jersey Supreme Court:
Poorer urban districts… are entitled to pass or fail with at least the same amount
of money as their competitors. If the claim is that these students simply cannot make it, the constitutional answer is: give them a chance. The Constitution does not tell them that since more money will not help, we will give them less; that because their needs cannot be fully met, they will not be met at all.
Similarly, in striking down Arkansas’s school funding scheme as both inadequate and inequitable in 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected as “far-fetched” and “implausible” the State’s argument that enhanced school funding does not correlate with better student performance, concluding that adequately compensated “teachers, sufficient equipment to supplement instruction, and learning in facilities that are [adequate}, all combine to enhance educational performance… All of that takes money.”
There is, of course, a spirited debate today over whether increased resources yield better test scores on standardized tests. There are many compelling anecdotes of extraordinary improvements in educational outcomes following significant new investments of resources. This is an important debate, but it is not worth the attention it tends to get. We Americans have far too great a penchant for reducing questions to numerical outcomes and rankings, and it is particularly prevalent and problematic in education. The fact is that along with resources goes the quality of life we offer our children, and their families, and the explicit respect and dignity of being full members of society. A poor school, relative to others, inevitably conveys a message of what the rest of society thinks of its students, their potential, and their worth. We have taken that lesson to heart with our commitments to students with disabilities – even though presumably all the funds spent to that end have not raised average test scores at their schools – and we should take it to heart more broadly for socio-economically disadvantaged students – indeed all students. If we want students to think they matter, we need to provide an education that suggests this is the case.
Thus, despite daunting legal, social, and educational challenges, hope endures. Teachers, administrators, and policy experts continue their work. Legal challenges to inequitable funding systems and inadequate education continue, based on state constitutions’ education and equal protection clauses, and other arguments.
And there may also be hope – for another day – in the most unlikely of places – in Rodriguez itself. Ironically, while it was the failure of the Supreme Court in Rodriguez to find a fundamental right to education that led plaintiffs to state courts and state constitutions, that process caused the legal grounds for challenging educational funding laws to shift from causes of action based on inequity to causes of action based on inadequacy. And the question of inadequacy remains very much open – under not only state constitutions, but also under the federal Constitution. Indeed, Justice Powell’s majority opinion in Rodriguez expressly stated pointedly:
The State [of Texas] repeatedly asserted in its briefs…that it now assures “every child in every school district an adequate education.” No proof was offered at trial persuasively discrediting or refuting the State’s assertion.
…even if it were conceded that some identifiable quantum of education is a constitutionally protected prerequisite to the meaningful exercise of either [First Amendment freedoms or the right to vote], we have no indication that the present levels of educational expenditure in Texas provide an education that falls short… [N]o charge fairly could be made [in the present case] that the system fails to provide each child with an opportunity to acquire the basic minimal skills necessary for the enjoyment of the rights of speech and of full participation in the political process.
And despite the fact that Rodriguez was, to my mind, a missed historical opportunity, the decision explicitly left open the issue of adequacy as a federal constitutional right, some “basic minimum” to which every child in the country is entitled. In fact, the Court reiterated this point in a later case, stating that it had not “definitively settled the questions whether a minimally adequate education is a fundamental right and whether a statute alleged to discriminatorily infringe that right should be accorded heightened equal protection review.”
Clearly, Justice Powell was troubled in Rodriguez by the complexity of the issues involved and the lack of clear solutions of judicially appropriate standards of evaluation. He feared that a decision for the plaintiffs would precipitate “an unparalleled upheaval in public education.” But over the last thirty years, state courts have made significant progress in defining and articulating justiciable standards of equity and adequacy. The challenges to state educational funding laws have stimulated or compelled an interaction between the state judiciary and the legislative and executive branches—about equity, about what an adequate education is, about the purposes of education and about the benefits of education and who receives those benefits. Since 1973, every single state has passed some form of public education finance reform. It is fifty different stories in fifty different states, but while lengthy, frustrating, and often difficult, they have been in the main, good for education, good for democracy, and good for society.
But we all are painfully aware that this country still struggles with equity in public education as it relates to financing; and we also still struggle with the challenge of quality – of adequacy – in public education. Because of Brown and succeeding cases, there is at least the possibility that students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds will benefit from sitting down and learning together. But whether what students are learning is adequate—in either educational or constitutional terms—is still very much at issue. That remains the challenge for all of us—educators, advocates, lawyers, and citizens—as members of a society that would seek to ensure that, in education, no child is left behind.
Lee C. Bollinger