et al. v. Rodriguez San Antonio School District et al.
Edgewood parents brought suit against the state of Texas in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. They alleged that the Texas method of funding public education discriminated against those children who happened to live in poorer school districts.
The district court ruled that Texas was financing school systems in a discriminatory fashion, based on wealth. Therefore, under the Equal Protection Clause, it was an unconstitutional system. They found that wealth was a suspect classification, a factor used to determine whether a law denies a class of individuals equal protection. Suspect classifications are those based on race, alienage, national origin, and sex. Also, it was decided that education was a "fundamental right." This meant that the state had to prove that there was a "compelling state interest" which dictated its policies. In fact, according to the district court, Texas didn't show that there was even a reasonable basis for its school funding policies.
When appealed, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the district court's decision. Justice Powell, expressing the views of five justices, denied both of the district court's findings. He pointed out that wealth, in and of itself, had never been a suspect classification nor had education ever been a fundamental right. He stated that these children were not being discriminated against because they were poor people, but because of where they lived.
In fact, the opinion went, nobody had shown that any group of children were being discriminated against. No children were absolutely deprived of a public education. The public school funding method did not take away any fundamental rights because education was not a constitutional right. There was no evidence that the school system provided an adequate education for all children.
Justice Powell also found that the Texas method for financing schools did not violate the Equal Protection Clause because there was a sound, rational basis for its existence. It was shown to be helping the state solve the problem of underwriting a public education system in much the same way as virtually every other state.
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