Twenty years ago a new kind of educational lawsuit designed to ensure “adequacy of funding” began to sweep through the state courts. Over the past five years these suits have been almost uniformly rejected, but for the first fifteen years courts in almost one-third of the states found funding to be unconstitutionally low and demanded that state legislatures substantially increase K-12 education appropriations. While the reasons for plaintiffs’ recent series of losses in the courts are varied, they almost certainly reflect the fact that court ordered funding has not been an effective means of improving student outcomes. This white paper by Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth highlights the dismal track record of the courts in bringing about effective education reform. Their book, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools
, traces the history of these lawsuits and provides strong evidence that, despite billions of dollars of court-ordered funding, student achievement has continued to languish in three of the four states which have had the most significant and longest running “adequacy” remedies - New Jersey, Wyoming and Kentucky. Only in Massachusetts, where increased funding was accompanied by more fundamental reforms was there evidence of improvement. This evidence was cited recently by the U.S. Supreme Court in Horne v. Flores
when it found in a case involving the education of English language learners that judicial funding mandates have been relatively ineffective in improving educational outcomes. State courts have already become noticeably less receptive to judicial funding mandates, and the Supreme Court’s decision will make them even more difficult to justify.