ISER – Day
Each Child, Every Child:
The Story of the Council for Better Education,
Equity and Adequacy in Kentucky’s Schools
Support for an efficient system of common schools has been a serious problem throughout Kentucky’s history. The General Assembly has long been content to allow Kentucky’s schools to rank among the least supported in the nation. This study attempts to put the struggle for adequately funded public schools into an historical context, focusing on the Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision in Rose v. Council for Better Education. The study examines this decision in light of present efforts to define and assure a proficient education for each and every child.
Substantial litigation emerged in the late 1960s to challenge state systems of school finance. Plaintiffs seeking to provide equitable public schools were frustrated in their attempts to use the U. S. Constitution as a basis for overturning funding schemes, but found more success later using education clauses from the various state constitutions. Among these plaintiffs was a group of Kentucky public school administrators who formed the Council for Better Education and won a landmark case that launched a new wave of American school finance litigation focused on equity and adequacy.
This study chronicles the activities of the Council for Better Education and provides insight into the effort required to bring about this historic result.
Council members met with hostility from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and legislators who did not want to be blamed for the existing conditions. The Council greatly benefited from powerful outside forces including the press, the Prichard Committee, and a host of civic, business and education groups - all pressing for better schools. When lobbying efforts failed, the Council filed suit.
Former Governor Bert Combs agreed to serve as counsel for the plaintiffs. He knew there was a separation of powers problem and appropriate relief would have to be suggested carefully so as not to intrude on legislative authority. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the present system was unconstitutional, that the governor must call a special session, and that the legislative leaders must present legislation that would increase funding to an amount that was equitable and adequate.
Defense attorney, William Scent argued that inequities would not exist if the plaintiffs had not mismanaged funds and had passed permissive taxes in their districts. He claimed the General Assembly had done the best they could since the people of Kentucky did not want more taxes and Kentucky is a poor state.
In a momentous decision on May 31, 1988, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Raymond Corns decided that the legislature had failed in their duty to provide an efficient system of schools. The case was immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.
The heart of the Rose case was the court’s definition of an efficient system of common schools: one established and maintained by the General Assembly to be substantially uniform throughout the state, free to all Kentucky children, and one that provides equal educational opportunity regardless of place of residence or economic conditions. An efficient system must also be sufficiently funded, free of waste, duplication, mismanagement, and political influence and it must have as its goal the development of seven specified capacities.
The Court declared the fundamental right of each and every child in the Commonwealth to an adequate education and declared the entire system of schools unconstitutional, which lead to the most sweeping education reform in Kentucky history.
Rose v. Council for Better Education can best be seen as a pioneering effort to alter Kentucky’s history and as a move toward more social justice for all children of the Commonwealth and enhanced economic prosperity for the state.
Find Richard Day’s complete history of the Council's work leading to the Rose decision and the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. Please note that the file is 4 MB in size, and a separate file for the appendices is listed below. Download PDF File
Each Child, Every Child - Appendices - provides supporting information for Dr Day's dissertation noted above. This file is 1.2 MB. Download PDF File
Find Richard Day’s blog, Kentucky School News and Commentary at www.theprincipal.blogspot.com.