Volume 26

Redrawing School District Lines: Reducing the Link Between Educational Inequality and Economic Inequality

by Joy Dodge

The Supreme Court, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, held that school funding disparities that resulted from the supplementation of state aid through local property taxes did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.1 In doing so, the court dismissed the parent association’s argument that there is a correlation between district wealth and educational
expenditures.2 Since this 1973 decision, numerous research studies were undertaken to prove that district wealth does, in fact, impact educational expenditures and student outcomes.3 Moreover, numerous state courts undertook efforts to reduce the reliance on district wealth in financing public schools, substantially altering the way schools are funded today.4 Despite these efforts, inequity remains in public schools throughout the nation. Differences in social capital, “the ability of individuals to secure benefits through familial and extrafamilial networks,”5 among school districts impact educational outcomes.6 Additionally, private donations by sophisticated groups, like education support organizations,7 undermine the equalization of school funding among districts.8 Given that educational equality has not been achieved through attempts to equalize per-pupil expenditures, more nuanced solutions are necessary.

Part II of this Note discusses San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the seminal case on school funding, as well as a sampling of state cases post San Antonio that have tackled the school funding issue. Part III details the impact of discrepancies in school funding. Part IV explores the most feasible solutions to combat educational inequality. Part V proposes a multi-faceted solution to combat not only intra-state educational inequality, but also inter-state educational inequality.

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1. San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 46–55 (1973).

2. Id. at 23–26.

3. See, e.g., Ronald F. Ferguson, Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters, 28 HARV. J. ON LEGIS. 465, 488–90 (1991) (finding a correlation between teacher quality, socioeconomic status, and student achievement); see also Rob Greenwald, Larry V. Hedges & Richard D. Laine, The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement, 66 REV. EDUC. RES. 361, 384–85 (1996) (finding a link between school resources and student achievement); S. EDUC. FOUND., NO TIME TO LOSE: WHY AMERICA NEEDS AN EDUCATION AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION TO IMPROVE PUBLIC EDUCATION 13, 18 (2009), http://www.southerneducation.org/getattachment/43e3f5bb-714f-47c3-85adece27529f99f/No-Time-Lose-Why-America-Needs-an-Education-Amendm.aspx (finding that districts with the most poverty receive less funding).

4. Abigail M. Frisch, The Class Is Greener on the Other Side: How Private Donations to Public Schools Play into Fair Funding, 67 DUKE L.J 427, 443 (2017).

5. Omari S. Simmons, Lost in Transition: The Implications of Social Capital for Higher Education Access, 87 NOTRE DAME L. REV. 205, 209 (2011).

6. DAVID GRISSMER ET AL., RAND, IMPROVING STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT: WHAT STATE NAEP TEST SCORES TELL US 97 (2000), https://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR924.html.

7. Frisch, supra note 4, at 433.

8. Id. at 448.