March 21, 1973:
With all the excitement earlier this week, I didn’t get around to posting about the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the San Antonio ISD v. Rodríguez case, an important case when it comes to educational inequality.
In the landmark San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodríguez (1973) case, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed whether a state system of financing public education through property taxes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminated on the basis of wealth. Petitioners in the case also claimed the U.S. constitution provided a fundamental right to an education under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Brought by the parents of Mexican American children living in San Antonio, Texas, the case highlighted the blatant disparities in resources among San Antonio school districts. The federal trial court ruled in favor of Rodríguez, holding that the Texas system for funding public schools was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As the case extract illustrates, however, on appeal the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, holding in a five-to-four decision that education is a responsibility of the states, not the federal government. The Court also noted that it had never held that disparities in resources based on wealth constituted a violation of the Constitution. The Court’s decision had the effect of setting a less progressive tone for educational equality during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Court rejected the rationale that education (although not mentioned in the Constitution) was a fundamental right because it is necessary when it comes to manifesting your First Amendment rights and voting. In the opinion of the majority written by Justice Lewis Powell, the Court stated “we have carefully considered each of the arguments that education is a fundamental right or liberty and have those arguments unpersuasive.”
I didn’t learn about San Antonio ISD v. Rodríguez until I started to look in to the legal foundation allowing undocumented children and youth to attend US schools and colleges.