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

August 1, 2007

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 taxes 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.


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