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The decision of the California Supreme Court in Serrano v. Priest requires little introduction. Employing a legal theory first suggested by Professors Coons, Clune, and Sugarman in Private Wealth and Public Education} the court declared unconstitutional the method by which public education is financed in California. Several courts have followed Serrano and the decision of one, a three-judge federal court in Texas, is now before the Supreme Court in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. The legal foundation of Rodriguez and Serrano is familiar if not entirely clear: Laws involving "suspect classifications" and touching "fundamental interests" must be justified by some "compelling" state interest. Both courts held that the traditional system of school finance, in its dependence on local property taxes, makes the "quality" of a child's education (a fundamental interest) dependent on the wealth of his school district (a suspect classification) and that the state interests of administrative and fiscal decentralization were attainable in other ways and hence not compelling justifications for the system. The Rodriguez court further found that per pupil expenditures measure educational quality, and consequently the decision prohibits school finance systems which make district expenditures dependent on district wealth.
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