San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez 8212 1332

Citation36 L.Ed.2d 16,411 U.S. 1,93 S.Ct. 1278
Decision Date21 March 1973
Docket NumberNo. 71,71
PartiesSAN ANTONIO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Appellants, v. Demetrio P. RODRIGUEZ et al. —1332
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

See 411 U.S. 959, 93 S.Ct. 1919.


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 schoolchildren 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 interdistrict 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 demonstrate a reasonable or rational basis for the State's system. Held:

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.

D.C., 337 F.Supp. 280, reversed.

Charles Alan Wright, Austin, Tex., for appellants.

Arthur Gochman, San Antonio, Tex., for appellees.

[Amicus Curiae Information from pages 3-5 intentionally omitted] 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 sec- ondary schools in the Edgewood Independent School District, an urban school district in San Antonio, Texas.1 They brought a class action on behalf of schoolchildren 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 com- plaint was filed in the summer of 1968 and a three-judge court was impaneled in January 1969.3 In December 19714 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, 92 S.Ct. 2413, 32 L.Ed.2d 665 (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 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 $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 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 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 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 interdistrict 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 Program20. 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 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.23 The district, in turn, finances its share of the Assignment out of revenues from local property taxation.

The design of this complex system was twofold. First, it was an attempt to assure that the Foundation Program would have an equalizing influence on expenditure levels between school districts by placing the heaviest burden on the school districts most capable of paying. Second, the Program's architects sought to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3072 cases
  • Evans v. Buchanan
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Delaware
    • March 27, 1975
    ...98 L.Ed. 873; McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184 85 S.Ct. 283, 13 L.Ed.2d 222. San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 61, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1311, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973) (Stewart, J., concurring). If a statute embodies a racial classification, it can withstand scrutiny under the f......
  • Gomes v. University of Maine System, No. CIV. 03-123-B-W.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maine
    • February 23, 2004
    ...of an education is not a fundamental right or liberty for purposes of substantive due process. San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 35, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973) ("Education, of course, is not among the rights afforded explicit protection under our Federal Const......
  • People v. Pettingill
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 9, 1978
    ...v. Priest (1976) 18 Cal.3d 728, 760-768, 135 Cal.Rptr. 345, 557 P.2d 929 (declining to follow San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez (1973) 411 U.S. 1, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16).) The construction of a provision of the California Constitution remains a matter of California law regardl......
  • Serrano v. Priest
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 30, 1976
    ...the progress of trial proceedings below, the United States Supreme Court rendered its decision in San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, supra, 411 U.S. 1, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16. There, addressing itself to an equal protection attack on the Texas public school financing system--wh......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
129 books & journal articles
  • Gutting Bivens: How the Supreme Court Shielded Federal Officials from Constitutional Litigation.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 85 No. 4, September 2020
    • September 22, 2020
    ...527 U.S. at 754-55. (419.) Hey, that rhymed. (420.) Chemerinsky, supra note 293, at 541. (421.) San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973) (holding that education is not a fundamental right, and that the States' school-funding systems may grossly underfund minority-popula......
  • Special needs' and other fourth amendment searches
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2020 Contents
    • July 31, 2020 subject to strict scrutiny, it is “not entitled to the usual presumption of validity.” San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 1, 16 (1973). Rather, the government must carry a “heavy burden of justiication” to show that the classiication is (1) narrowly tailored (2) to ser......
  • Special needs' and other fourth amendment searches
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Fourth amendment searches and seizures
    • April 1, 2022 subject to strict scrutiny, it is “not entitled to the usual presumption of validity.” San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 1, 16 (1973). Rather, the government must carry a “heavy burden of justification” to show that the classification is (1) narrowly tailored (2) to s......
  • Safeguarding the right to a sound basic education in times of fiscal constraint.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 75 No. 4, June - June 2012
    • June 22, 2012 a result of insufficient funding." Davis v. State, 804 N.W.2d 618, 627 (S.D. 2011). (31) San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 7 (32) See, e.g., Robinson v. Cahill, 303 A.2d 273, 295 (N.J. 1973) (defining the constitutional requirement as "that educational opportunity w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT