A 1981 lawsuit filed against New Jersey was decided four years later, but has returned to court nine times since, most recently in 2004. Suits are climbing through the courts in Georgia and Missouri.
In the 1970s, activist judges were ordering schools to spend more money to achieve racial balance. The apogee of those cases was the famous Kansas City, Mo., decision, which ordered taxes levied on the people of Missouri to build the world's most expensive school.
Two decades and billions of dollars later, this extravagantly equipped school is just as segregated as ever and posting test scores just as low.
When the lawyers and judges began to see that desegregation was an academic failure (and minorities began filing suits to return to neighborhood schools), the rationale for judicial supremacy changed to "equity." Dozens of suits were filed in the 1980s under equal-protection clauses in state constitutions to get activist judges to order state taxes to be levied to equalize spending on schools in rich and poor districts.
"Equity" has been a spectacular failure, too. These court rulings narrowed spending disparity in some cases, but Education Trust, a Washington-based research group, found that in half the states the funding gap between rich and poor districts actually widened.
A study of Texas's school funding litigation by a Harvard economist concluded that 10 years of lawsuits to equalize the spending between rich and poor school districts, by what was called the Robin Hood scheme, resulted in reducing the spending gap by $500 per pupil, but cost $27,000 per pupil in destruction of property values. Increased property taxes depressed real estate values, leading inevitably to more tax increases and further declines in real estate values.
In the 1990s, litigating lawyers changed their takeover rationale again. They abandoned the argument of "equity" and substituted "adequacy."
The lawyers seek out subjective words in state constitutions such as "thorough and efficient," "sound basic," "adequate," or "suitable." Activist judges have accepted these adequacy arguments in almost two-thirds of major school finance decisions since 1989.
But how much spending is adequate? The price tag for adequacy calculated by experts ranges from $5,009 in Illinois to $15,639 in New York.
A lot of school money has been spent on litigation instead of on classrooms, but no one has proved any relation between school spending and student achievement.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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