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School Finance Lawsuits Lead to $34 Billion in New State and Local Education Appropriations

2 min readBy: Chris Atkins

Since the early 1970s, frustrated education activists (including many local school officials) have turned to the courts in an effort to secure more education spending. In at least 27 states, these plaintiffs have secured court orders requiring lawmakers to appropriate more state money for schools. Our new report, Appropriation by Litigation: Estimating the Cost of Judicial Mandates for State and Local Education Spending, chronicles the impact these mandates are having on spending and taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. es in these 27 states.

Since 1977, lawmakers have appropriated an additional $34 billion to assuage judges. These appropriations include increases in recurring spending, capital expenses, and money spent to settle cases out of court. To put that $34 billion price tag in context consider that:

  • $34 billion is greater than $1 billion per state in court-mandated spending
  • $34 billion is the equivalent of almost $1,000 per pupil (which is more than 10 percent of per pupil spending in those states)

With numbers of these magnitude we can safely conclude that, in the short-term, courts have required significant increases in appropriation for education.

Courts in some states have had a more severe impact than others, however. New York and New Jersey account for more than half the total, where courts required lawmakers to approve more than $10 and $8 billion, respectively, in new money. Ohio and Texas courts have force each state to approve $2 billion more, and courts in three other states have required additional investments that exceed $1 billion. The table below tracks the short-term fiscal impact of judicial mandates in each state.

States Appropriate $34 Billion in Education Funds to Comply With Court Orders
State Total Spent to Comply with Judicial Mandates Total Spent Per Pupil Rank Per Pupil
New Jersey $8,264,577,894 $6,648 1
New York $10,567,591,325 $3,633 2
Connecticut $1,527,583,067 $2,478 3
New Hampshire $422,996,933 $2,066 4
Massachusetts $1,437,993,080 $1,638 5
Maryland $1,365,036,131 $1,575 6
Kansas $720,183,954 $1,570 7
New Mexico $426,651,609 $1,332 8
Kentucky $722,647,284 $1,136 9
Ohio $2,041,282,061 $1,109 10
Washington $779,290,429 1,004 11
Wyoming $88,655,521 931 12
Montana $101,268,971 693 13
Texas $2,650,185,411 655 14
Missouri $470,615,917 543 15
Arizona $434,585,890 512 16
Tennessee $355,736,877 451 17
Arkansas $197,270,453 436 18
North Dakota $28,306,048 280 19
Colorado $197,456,446 273 20
Vermont $23,538,941 222 21
Michigan $375,482,209 218 22
California $989,000,000 153 23
Idaho $31,136,653 122 24
Alaska $13,152,701 98 25
Iowa $40,000,000 85 26
North Carolina $21,762,673 16 27
Total: $34,293,988,476 Weighted Average: $976

Source: Tax Foundation calculations based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics

This table is less than half the story, however. Did taxes go up in these states? Did long-term spending go up? Future blog posts will answer these questions, although those who want the answers now can find them in our new report.