PAYING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS: THE COST OF JUDICIAL MANDATES

October 15, 2007

Since the 1970s, education lawsuits have proliferated, with parents, teachers and school administrators arguing in state courts that legislatures have a constitutional duty to boost public education funding, according to a new study by the Tax Foundation.

According to the study:

  • Since 1977 lawmakers in 27 states have appropriated roughly $34 billion to public schools to comply with judicial orders.
  • That works out to about $1,000 per pupil, or more than 10 percent of per-pupil spending in those states.

Further:

  • While education lawsuits have raised taxes and boosted education spending in the short run, they've mostly failed to achieve their goal of higher school spending in the long run.
  • Despite spending hikes to comply with court mandates, 18 of the 27 states examined spent $284 less per pupil in 2004 than they would have been expected to based on growth trends before the court mandates.

The study also reveals judges in some states are more willing to demand school spending than in others:

  • Court cases in New York and New Jersey account for more than half the total.
  • In those states, courts required lawmakers to approve $10 billion and $8 billion in additional school spending, respectively.
  • Courts in Ohio and Texas have been active as well, each forcing lawmakers to approve roughly $2 billion in spending.
  • Courts in three other states have required additional public school spending of over $1 billion.

"Our findings show that while judges certainly hold power, the legislature will always retain the 'power of the purse,'" said Chris Atkins, Senior Tax Counsel at the Tax Foundation.  "In the long run, the best way to fund schools is not to demand money from the courts. It's to convince legislatures that it's a good use of taxpayer dollars."

Source: "Paying for Public Schools, What's the Cost of Judicial Mandates?" Tax Foundation, September-October, 2007.

 

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