Oklahoma School Finance Litigation: Shifting from Equity to Adequacy

This Article traces the history of Oklahoma school finance litigation from the initial challenge based on funding inequity to a recent lawsuit founded on alleged constitutional inadequacies in the state system. Although the legal challenge based on funding inequity was unsuccessful in the courts, the pendency of the suit helped push the state legislature toward some reforms. The threat of a new lawsuit based on alleged inadequacies in the state school system, together with a serious funding shortfall, propelled a comprehensive education reform plan through the state legislature in 1990. The association of local school boards that led the equity challenge nevertheless remained dissatisfied with the lack of sufficient funds and funding reform and again sued the state, claiming that, despite reforms, the school system was and would remain constitutionally inadequate. The author, one of the attorneys for the association, looks back at the genesis of the association and the impact of the equity lawsuit in Oklahoma and explains how this group of local school boards came to challenge the state school system as constitutionally inadequate. The author also explains how the association became sidetracked and ultimately was pulled apart before trial by political factors and tensions between its original goal of funding equity and the demands of an adequacy-based constitutional challenge.