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Courting Failure: How School Finance Lawsuits Exploit Judges Good Intentions and Harm our Children

November 1, 2006

Education Next Books, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University

The Hoover Institute's Koret Task Force on Education recently released a book entitled Courting Failure: How School Finance Lawsuits Exploit Judges Good Intentions and Harm our Children.  The book includes chapters by ten national experts assessing whether or not educational "adequacy" lawsuits have benefitted American school children.  In the only book to date which has taken a critical look at such lawsuits, the authors conclude, among other things, that while such lawsuits have resulted in increased funding for education in several states, they have failed to result in significant improvements in student performance. 

Partner Al Lindseth, the only lawyer among the authors, contributed a chapter entitled, "The Legal Backdrop to Adequacy" which may be of particular interest to lawyers charged with defending the constitutionality of state finance systems. 

In his chapter, Lindseth analyzes the law as state courts across the country have applied it in educational adequacy cases, including decisions in New York, Wyoming, Kansas, New Jersey and Texas.  Unlike previous federal and state court decisions in school finance cases, he concludes that most courts that have judged "adequacy" cases on the merits have disregarded difficult issues of causation, and applied what is essentially strict financially liability on state governments for subpar student performance.  A notable exception to this trend is a recent decision in Texas dismissing an adequacy claim, and whether it portends the future, Lindseth believes, remains to be seen.

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