State Courts and School Funding: A Fifty-State Analysis

By Lundberg, Paula J. | Albany Law Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

State Courts and School Funding: A Fifty-State Analysis

Lundberg, Paula J., Albany Law Review


School funding became an issue of state law after the Supreme Court in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez(1) refused to declare education a fundamental right, and declined to find that school children in poorly-funded districts represent a suspect class.(2) High courts in forty-one states have considered the issue--seventeen courts finding state school funding systems unconstitutional, and twenty-four courts declining to make this ruling.(3) The purpose of this Article is to examine potential factors affecting these court rulings, and to develop a model that analyzes these factors to determine whether they are predictive of judicial decision making on the constitutionality of state school funding systems across the country.

The models constructed to evaluate these state school funding cases will be based on the findings of prior research conducted in the judicial process field. Part II introduces various theoretical approaches that have analyzed judicial decision making and sets forth the framework and methodology upon which the instant school funding models will be created and tested. Based on these theories, Parts III through VII construct models utilizing factors relevant to each approach in anticipation of determining if any factors are predictive of judicial outcomes in school funding cases. Part VIII concludes with the empirical findings for each model, and then incorporates the independent models into a final integrated model--which predicts that a traditionalistic state which is less urban, has a higher per capita income, and a constitution with greater protection for education, will be the most likely to enter a decision for the plaintiffs in a school funding challenge.


The complicated nature of judicial decision research has generated multiple theoretical approaches. Until recently, each of the various theories has focused on the effects of only one set of influences on the judicial decision. Some researchers, for example, have argued that case facts and legal rules determine judicial votes.(4) Others conceptualize case outcomes as resulting from influences on the judicial perspective, such as the personality characteristics or political values of the jurists.(5) A third approach holds that influences on the judicial environment--like the actions of the other governmental branches, the economy, or social trends--sway the judicial decision.(6) Institutional features such as length of judicial term and selection method are a fourth source of potential influences on a judge's vote.(7)

Recent scholarship, however, suggests that models dealing with only one set of explanatory variables fail to capture the complexities of the many influences on judicial decisions, and thus are underspecified.(8) These authors propose a fifth approach to the analysis of judicial decision making that integrates the previously described theories of judicial behavior into one model.(9) This type of integrated model would also take into account interactions among variables that might condition relationships among legal, personal, and environmental perspectives. As noted by one commentator, it is important for a fully specified model of judicial decision making to include these interactive terms, because they offer "an explanation of appellate court decision making that sufficiently reflects the complexity of the judicial calculus."(10)

All of these theories will be discussed in greater detail below. In each of the models to be tested, the dependent variable will be the decision reached by the highest court in each state that has considered the constitutionality of the state's school funding system. Supreme courts in two states, Arizona and Ohio, originally declined to overturn their school funding systems,(11) but later overruled these decisions and found their systems unconstitutional.(12) As these two state decisions address the constitutional meaning of equal protection and education, both cases will be included in the models.

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State Courts and School Funding: A Fifty-State Analysis


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