Rose V. Williams: Wrongly Decided?

By Driskill, Ryan | Journal of Law and Education, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview
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Rose V. Williams: Wrongly Decided?

Driskill, Ryan, Journal of Law and Education


Against the backdrop of criticism of Kentucky's educational system, Kentucky's Supreme Court decided one of the most important cases regarding Kentucky's public education in Rose v. Council for Better Education, Inc.' In that case, parents and school districts brought suit against the General Assembly alleging that the system of school financing did not meet state constitutional mandates.2 However, this suit, by asking the Court to rule on the constitutionality of the system of funding, required the Court to evaluate the wisdom of the General Assembly-not simply interpret the law.

Kentucky's Constitution requires that the General Assembly "provide an efficient system of common schools throughout the state" through appropriate legislation. 3 In Rose, the plaintiffs alleged that General Assembly had not provided for an efficient system of common schools as required by the Kentucky constitution.4 More specifically, the plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that the state's system of funding was inadequate as a whole and caused inadequacies, as well as inequities, in the state education system.5

At the time of the suit, the state financially contributed to local school districts primarily through two programs. Through the Minimum Foundation Program, the state government provided grants to schools that met certain requirements.6 Schools must employ and compensate teachers for 185 days of work and operate their schools for a term of at least 185 days per year, unless the Kentucky Board of Education allows that term to be reduced.7 For those schools qualifying for state assistance through this program, the state provides funds based on the average daily attendance at the school district although this amount may be modified based upon certain factors such as the number of students considered to be at-risk.8

In addition to the Minimum Foundation Program, the state had also enacted a program called the Power Equalization Program." This act required districts to levy a minimum property tax which was then distributed to the districts to correct funding inequities.1" Despite the state programs created to promote equality in the state's school districts, the plaintiffs in Rose were able to present the Court with strong evidence that the state's public schools were weak. In fact, the Court noted that in almost every measurement of various aspects of the education system, Kentucky ranked near the bottom." Further, the Court compared test scores in poor districts with those in wealthier districts and noted the correlation between wealth and test scores.12 The Court explicitly stated that it believed that the educational opportunities offered poor districts were ''inadequate and inferior" when compared to the opportunities offered in wealthier districts.13

Obviously, the Court believed that the inadequacies in the school system were linked to funding, as opposed to mandates relating to teacher requirements, curriculum choice, or any other factor. With that belief established, the Court addressed certain legal obstacles to its ability to decide whether the state legislature had fulfilled its mandate from the constitution-including issues related to standing, class action certification, service of process, the separation of powers doctrine, and political question doctrine.14

This note will analyze the Court's holding regarding the separation of powers doctrine and the political question doctrine and the Court's application of those doctrines to the facts in Rose.


The separation of powers doctrine is designed to maintain the autonomy and independence of the several branches of government. More specifically, the separation of powers doctrine prevents one branch of the government from exercising the powers vested in another branch of government.15

Kentucky's constitution divides the state government into three distinct branches of government based upon their functions-legislative, judicial, or executive.

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Rose V. Williams: Wrongly Decided?


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