Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Nixon Years: School Funding and Federal Courts
But the impact of the decision did not end there. In a rather jarring move, Justice Powell held that, since education was not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution itself, federal courts could not judge issues of school spending: "Even if it were conceded that some identifiable quantum of education is a constitutionally protected prerequisite to the meaningful exercise of [e.g., the 'right' to free speech or the 'right' to vote], we have no indication that the present educational expenditure in Texas provides an education that falls short. Whatever merit [plaintiffs'] argument might have if a state's financing system occasioned an absolute denial of educational opportunities to any of its children, that argument provides no basis for finding an interference with a 'fundamental right' where only relative differences in spending levels are involved and where-as is true in the present case-no charge fairly could be made that the system fails to provide each child with an opportunity to acquire the basic minimum skills necessary for the enjoyment of the rights of speech and of full participation in the political process."
In other words, as long as a state education system cultivated "the basic minimum skills" required to participate in a democratic society, the federal courts were obligated to uphold their systems of school aid. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the court's decision. It effectively took the issue of school funding out of the realm of federal responsibility and removed the issue of educational quality-or resources-from the context of federally protected "rights." At the same time, however, it left states with the burden of covering the high cost of educational services mandated under other federal laws (or required under other federal court decisions), including the costs of bilingual and the costs of court-ordered desegregation. In these areas, the federal government required educational services but took no responsibility for paying for them.