The court decides: San Antonio Independent v. Rodriguez

By Ritaja Subrahmanya

The United States Supreme Court’s decision on San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973) was a turning point in the fight for equal access to education. 

In 1968, low-income families in San Antonio, Texas, filed a lawsuit challenging the way Texas funded its public schools. They compared Alamo Heights, a high-income district with a funding of $594 per student, and Edgewood, a low-income district, with $356 per student. 

Property taxes, a significant part of the funding for public schools, are a propelling contributor to inequities between the districts. Schools in low-income neighborhoods have less funding and therefore the students do not have access to the same resources as those in wealthier communities. 

Using property taxes to fund schools significantly disadvantages low-income students (Illustration by Ritaja Subrahmanya)

The plaintiffs argued this funding system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Equal Protection Clause ensures that states treat an individual the same way they would treat others in similar circumstances and has been invaluable in defending civil rights. 

In a 5-4 decision, the Court controversially said that since the right to education is not in the Constitution and the system did not discriminate against all poor people, the system did not need to be changed. This decision allowed the inequities among school districts we still have today. 

Poor students, already disadvantaged by their economic status, struggle even more to remain equal with their high-income peers.

When someone loses education, the entire world suffers. Their unique perspective and ideas are lost because they were not given the same opportunities as others. Education helps us understand the world around us and gives us insight into everyday life. 

Given its life-changing abilities, education should be a fundamental right. People who get a high degree of education have a better chance of finding a stable job, according to Statistics Canada. Youth who gain a good education, get better jobs and pay taxes to provide health care, infrastructure and social needs for other citizens. When people are educated, society as a whole benefits. 

The federal government should ensure everyone gets an equal education. However, due to this court ruling, the federal government is limited in its ability to change the education system; at least at the state level, action needs to be taken to change this. 

School-funding lawsuits have been filed in 45 states, according to The Atlantic. In Serrano v. Priest (1971), the California Supreme Court ruled that since education was in the California Constitution, using local property taxes to fund schools discriminated against low-income students.

  While Californians are fortunate to have equal access to education, not everyone is. The right to education should be in the U.S. Constitution, allowing students nationwide to receive equal access to education and not be limited by their socioeconomic class. 

Educating people creates economic growth and benefits society as a whole. San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez should be overturned.