Illinois Court Rejects Spending Equity Suit

Published January 1, 1997

On October 18, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in a divided opinion that the state’s system for funding education does not violate the state’s constitution.

“This court has specifically indicated that not every right secured by our state constitution is fundamental,” wrote Justice John Nickels for the majority. “While education is certainly a vitally important government function, it is not a fundamental individual right for equal protection purposes.”

With this ruling, the court rejected the argument, pressed by a coalition of teachers unions and government school administrators, that large variations in per-pupil spending from school district to school district violate the equal protection clause of the constitution.

Nor does the present school fin-ancing system violate the state constitution’s education article, the court ruled.

Although the state constitution declares that “the state has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education,” the new rulings find that Illinois courts cannot intervene, as courts have in 14 other states, to force the legislature to adopt changes in school funding policies.

The court recognized that the state constitution gives the elected state legislature responsibility for addressing the school funding issue. The state constitution requires that the state itself “shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services,” and that the General Assembly by law may provide for “other free education.”

This is not an area for the judicial branch to expand its powers into. “Courts may not legislate in the field of public education any more than they may legislate in any other area,” ruled the court.

To have judges rule on the question of educational quality, said the court, “would largely deprive the members of the general public of a voice in a matter which is close to the hearts of all individuals in Illinois.” While the court recognized that the views of educators and school administrators were important, they pressed the opinion that “non-expertsÑstudents, parents, employers, and othersÑalso have important views and experiences to contribute which are not easily reckoned through formal judicial fact finding.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].