411 U.S. 1 (1973), 71-1332, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez

Docket Nº:No. 71-1332
Citation:411 U.S. 1, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16
Party Name:San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez
Case Date:March 21, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

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411 U.S. 1 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16

San Antonio Independent School District



No. 71-1332

United States Supreme Court

March 21, 1973

Argued October 12, 1972




The financing of public elementary and secondary schools in Texas is a product of state and local participation. Almost half of the revenues are derived from a largely state-funded program designed to provide a basic minimum educational offering in every school. Each district supplements state aid through an ad valorem tax on property within its jurisdiction. Appellees brought this class action on behalf of school children said to be members of poor families who reside in school districts having a low property tax base, making the claim that the Texas system's reliance on local property taxation favors the more affluent and violates equal protection requirements because of substantial inter-district disparities in per-pupil expenditures resulting primarily from differences in the value of assessable property among the districts. The District Court, finding that wealth is a "suspect" classification and that education is a "fundamental" right, concluded that the system could be upheld only upon a showing, which appellants failed to make, that there was a compelling state interest for the system. The court also concluded that appellants failed even to

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demonstrate a reasonable or rational basis for the State's system.


1. This is not a proper case in which to examine a State's laws under standards of strict judicial scrutiny, since that test is reserved for cases involving laws that operate to the disadvantage of suspect classes or interfere with the exercise of fundamental rights and liberties explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution. Pp. 18-44.

(a) The Texas system does not disadvantage any suspect class. It has not been shown to discriminate against any definable class of "poor" people or to occasion discriminations depending on the relative wealth of the families in any district. And, insofar as the financing system disadvantages those who, disregarding their individual income characteristics, reside in comparatively poor school districts, the resulting class cannot be said to be suspect. Pp. 18-28.

(b) Nor does the Texas school financing system impermissibly interfere with the exercise of a "fundamental" right or liberty. Though education is one of the most important services performed by the State, it is not within the limited category of rights recognized by this Court as guaranteed by the Constitution. Even if some identifiable quantum of education is arguably entitled to constitutional protection to make meaningful the exercise of other constitutional rights, here there is no showing that the Texas system fails to provide the basic minimal skills necessary for that purpose. Pp. 29-39.

(c) Moreover, this is an inappropriate case in which to invoke strict scrutiny, since it involves the most delicate and difficult questions of local taxation, fiscal planning, educational policy, and federalism, considerations counseling a more restrained form of review. Pp. 40-44.

2. The Texas system does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Though concededly imperfect, the system bears a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. While assuring a basic education for every child in the State, it permits and encourages participation in and significant control of each district's schools at the local level. Pp. 44-53.

337 F.Supp. 280, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined.

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STEWART, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 59. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 62. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and BRENNAN, JJ., joined, post, p. 63. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, J., joined, post, p. 70.

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POWELL, J., lead opinion

[93 S.Ct. 1282] MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit attacking the Texas system of financing public education was initiated by Mexican-American parents whose children attend the elementary and secondary

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schools in the Edgewood Independent School District, an urban school district in San Antonio, Texas.1 They brought a class action on behalf of school children throughout the State who are members of minority groups or who are poor and reside in school districts having a low property tax base. Named as defendants2 were the State Board of Education, the Commissioner of Education, the State Attorney General, and the Bexar County (San Antonio) Board of Trustees. The complaint

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was filed in the summer of 1968, and a three-judge court was impaneled in January, 1969.3 In December, 1971,4 the panel rendered its judgment in a per curiam opinion holding the Texas school finance system unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.5 The State appealed, and we noted probable jurisdiction to consider the far-reaching constitutional questions presented. 406 U.S. 966 (1972). For the reasons stated in this opinion, we reverse the decision of the District Court.


The first Texas State Constitution, promulgated upon Texas' entry into the Union in 1845, provided for the establishment of a system of free schools.6 Early in its history, Texas adopted a dual approach to the financing of its schools, relying on mutual participation by the local school districts and the State. As early as 1883, the state

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constitution was amended to provide for the creation of local school districts empowered to levy ad valorem taxes with the consent of local taxpayers for the "erection . . . of school buildings" and for the "further maintenance of public free schools."7 Such local funds as were raised were supplemented by funds distributed to each district from the State's Permanent and Available School Funds.8 The Permanent School Fund, its predecessor established in 1854 with [93 S.Ct. 1283] $2,000,000 realized from an annexation settlement,9 was thereafter endowed with millions of acres of public land set aside to assure a continued source of income for school support.10 The Available School Fund, which received income from the Permanent School Fund as well as from a state ad valorem property tax and other designated taxes,11 served as the disbursing arm for most state educational funds throughout the late 1800's and first half of this century. Additionally, in 1918, an increase in state property taxes was used to finance a program providing free textbooks throughout the State.12

Until recent times, Texas was a predominantly rural State, and its population and property wealth were spread

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relatively evenly across the State.13 Sizable differences in the value of assessable property between local school districts became increasingly evident as the State became more industrialized and as rural-to-urban population shifts became more pronounced.14 The location of commercial and industrial property began to play a significant role in determining the amount of tax resources available to each school district. These growing disparities in population and taxable property between districts were responsible in part for increasingly notable differences in levels of local expenditure for education.15 In due time, it became apparent to those concerned with financing public education that contributions from the Available School Fund were not sufficient to ameliorate these disparities.16 Prior to 1939, the Available School Fund contributed money to every school district at a rate of $17.50 per school-age child.17 Although the amount was increased several times in the early 1940's,18

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the Fund was providing only $46 per student by 1945.19

Recognizing the need for increased state funding to help offset disparities in local spending and to meet Texas' changing educational requirements, the state legislature, in the late 1940's, undertook a thorough evaluation of public education [93 S.Ct. 1284] with an eye toward major reform. In 1947, an 18-member committee, composed of educators and legislators, was appointed to explore alternative systems in other States and to propose a funding scheme that would guarantee a minimum or basic educational offering to each child and that would help overcome inter-district disparities in taxable resources. The Committee's efforts led to the passage of the Gilmer-Aikin bills, named for the Committee's co-chairmen, establishing the Texas Minimum Foundation School Program.20 Today, this Program accounts for approximately half of the total educational expenditures in Texas.21

The Program calls for state and local contributions to a fund earmarked specifically for teacher salaries, operating expenses, and transportation costs. The State, supplying funds from its general revenues, finances approximately 80% of the Program, and the school districts are responsible -- as a unit -- for providing the remaining 20%. The districts' share, known as the Local Fund Assignment, is apportioned among the school districts

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under a formula designed to reflect each district's relative taxpaying ability. The Assignment is first divided among Texas' 254 counties pursuant to a complicated economic index that takes into account the relative value of each county's contribution to the State's total income from manufacturing, mining, and agricultural activities. It also considers each county's relative share of all payrolls paid within the State and, to a lesser extent, considers each county's share of all property in the State.22 Each county's assignment is then divided among its school districts on the basis of each district's share of assessable property within the county.2...

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