From Equity to Adequacy: Evolving Legal Theories in School Finance Litigation: The Case of Connecticut

Lesley A. DeNardis

Abstract


Since the landmark school finance decision Serrano v. Priest (1971) ruled that California’s reliance on the property tax to finance public schools violated equal protection provisions in state and federal constitutions, a wave of school finance litigation swept the United States.  Connecticut followed with Horton v. Meskill (1977) and most recently with CCJEF v. Rell (2005). The Connecticut State Supreme Court has been a key actor in the policy making process concerning school finance reform in Connecticut. This study will trace the history of school finance litigation in Connecticut and the evolving legal theories used to undergird major court cases. The legal theories that have been developed in Connecticut school finance litigation cases over a thirty year time period have mirrored national trends evolving from the utilization of equity claims then turning to adequacy provisions based on state constitutions in an attempt to redress spending inequities. This study will argue that despite the increasing sophistication of legal strategies as well as a broadening coalition of participants and earlier favorable court rulings in sister states, the plaintiffs now face a less hospitable environment towards school finance reform making the outcome of this latest case uncertain. This study will examine the major legal theories advanced in Horton I (1977), Horton III (1985) and CCJEF v. Rell (2008) and conclude by offering some tentative explanations of the jurisprudence of school finance litigation by providing a closer examination of judicial-legislative dynamics and the prospects for reform in Connecticut.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/ije.v2i1.386

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