The Constitution Does not Guarantee the Right to Equal Education

Within the problem of poor funding for public schools overall lies the challenge of unequal distribution of these funds. The picture below from an NPR article depicts the uneven financing of school districts:



This article explains that education funding comes from three sources. The proportion varies a bit between states, but generally, 10% is financed federally, and the remaining 90% is split evenly between state and local funding. Local funds come largely from property taxes, which leads to the obvious problem of poorer districts having far smaller budgets for their schools than high-income areas. This sourcing of funds explains the vast differences seen between states in spending per student, as well as the skewed distribution of funds between districts within the same state.

Some states try to flatten the uneven distribution among districts by making up a larger percentage of the funding source. This puts less pressure on areas of lower income to provide those funds for schools. North Carolina is one of these states. Our state government contributes two thirds of our schools’ funds. Even so, North Carolina spends an average of $8,867 per student, which is well under the national average (about a quarter less.)

There have been many attempts to level the playing field, but none have been successful. In one case in 1973, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee equal funding for education. That’s right. Nine old guys (the case happened eight years before the first woman was sworn into the Supreme Court) decided that American children would not receive equal education, because the government wasn’t explicitly obliged to do so.

If the federal government became the entire source of school funds all across the nation, there would would be far less of a divide in education quality based on economic status.



  1. It’s absolutely correct that the constitution does not mandate equal education. You can’t force a community to pay for the education of others. I can’t make my neighbor pay for my kid’s college education. That’s not fair. Yet, we willingly give our taxes so that we can have local schools because we want our communities to be educated. How much value should be put into that is up to the discretion of the community. To mandate that education be federally socialized is something that is dangerous and inefficient. Schools need to closely tied to the communities that support them, taking that away weakens how a school functions.


  2. Thanks for your input Capt. Jack, I’m happy to hear a different perspective and better understand the reasoning behind the way schools are financed currently.
    You mentioned that it isn’t fair to make our neighbors pay for our children’s education, but when we all benefit equally from being surrounded by educated members of society and suffer proportionately when our neighbors do not have access to education, I believe it is reasonable to ask every citizen to contribute to school funding. Particularly because we have all benefited from our own education which would not have been possible without our neighbors’ help. I think it is a fair request that every community should get to decide what value they give to education, but it is also a fair request to ask that every individual be provided with the same opportunity for education. What is unfair is to have your only opportunity for education be a school where teachers must be shared between schools in the district, buildings are molding and in poor conditions, and which provide unhealthy lunch options while your neighbors a few miles away enjoy a high quality education with three times the funds per student simply because they were born into a wealthier community. This is one of the cases described in the NPR article. I think every individual should have access to great schools, and the only way to ensure that is through federal funding.


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