A host of legal and related issues have been posed by the recent decision in Serrano v. Priest; a selective scanning of these issues, in an attempt to ascertain their importance and likely impact, is now necessary. In Serrano the Supreme Court of California held that to the extent existing differences in spending among school districts are caused by differences in wealth, the present scheme for financing public schools in California violates federal and state equal protection guarantees. The court further held that although school finance mechanisms may differ along many dimensions, they must respect one proscription: the quality of public education, at least as measured by spending per pupil, may not be a function of wealth other than the wealth of the state as a whole.
Redundancy may be helpful here. One restatement of the court's holding is that Serrano requires of the state a fiscal neutrality among those agencies it creates and empowers to make different choices regarding educational spending. Another paraphrase would be that, to the extent the state allows quantities of public education to be bought by local units (whether counties, school districts, schools, or families), unit wealth must not be allowed to affect the quantity purchased. Since, as things stand, local taxable wealth per pupil is a major determinant of public school spending in almost all states, Serrano is significant; insofar as fiscal neutrality is not an elementary or unambiguous concept, the meaning of Serrano remains obscure. Speculation about its career is worthwhile if risky.
John E. Coons; Wm. H. Clune,; and Stephen D. Sugarman
"A First Appraisal of Serrano,"
Yale Review of Law and Social Action:
2, Article 2.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yrlsa/vol2/iss2/2