RODRIGUEZ V. SAN ANTONIO ISD
RODRÍGUEZ V. SAN ANTONIO ISD. Rodríguez et al. v. San Antonio ISD, a class-action suit, was a 1971 landmark case in which a federal district court declared the Texas school-finance system unconstitutional. The case followed the work of the School Improvement League, a San Antonio organization that battled racial and class inequities in the San Antonio schools although not through legal action. The state of Texas had not addressed school-finance reform since 1949, when the Gilmer-Aikin Laws were passed. On May 16, 1968, 400 students at Edgewood High School in San Antonio held a walk-out and demonstration, and marched to the district administration office. Ninety percent of the students in the Edgewood district were of Mexican origin. Among the students' grievances were insufficient supplies and the lack of qualified teachers. The walkout induced parents to form the Edgewood District Concerned Parents Association, which sought to address problems in the schools. The group consisted of Alberta Snid, Demetrio Rodríguez, and other parents, mostly mothers. Rodríguez, a veteran and sheet-metal worker at Kelly Air Force Base, had worked with the American G.I. Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Mexican-American Betterment Organization in San Antonio. William Velásquez, an activist in San Antonio, connected the parents' group with lawyer Arthur Gochman, who appealed unsuccessfully to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund for assistance. On July 10, 1968, Rodríguez and seven other Edgewood parents filed on behalf of Texas schoolchildren who were poor or resided in school districts with low property-tax bases. They claimed their school district had one of the highest tax rates in the county but raised only $37 per pupil, while Alamo Heights, Bexar County's wealthiest district, raised $413 per student. Studies revealed that in Bexar County the tax rate per $100 property value needed to equalize education funding was $0.68 for Alamo Heights but $5.76 for Edgewood.
Defendants included the State Board of Education, the commissioner of education, the state attorney general, and the Bexar County Board of Trustees. In January 1969 a three-judge federal district court was impaneled because Rodríguez challenged a state law on federal grounds. Gochman's argument rested upon two major claims that no federal court had accepted. The first was that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution made education a "fundamental right," and the second was that poor and Mexican-American families were treated as a "suspect class." The state countered that the Texas legislature had authorized a study of school finance, and Judge Adrian Spears delayed hearing the case so that the Texas Legislature might solve the issue. But the legislature closed its session in 1971 without acting. The three-judge court ruled on Rodríguez in December 23, 1971. The panel held the Texas school-finance system unconstitutional under the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state appealed, and the case went to the United States Supreme Court as San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodríguez. The attorneys general of twenty-five states filed amicus briefs on Rodríguez's side.
On March 21, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled five to four against Rodríguez, stating that the system of school finance did not violate the federal constitution and that the issue should be resolved by the state of Texas. It also held that the state would not be required to subsidize poorer school districts. This ruling in effect produced additional legal barriers to equalization. The court denied a rehearing on April 23, 1973. Justice Thurgood Marshall, however, called the decision "a retreat from our historic commitment to equality of educational opportunity." Rodríguez responded to the decision, "The poor people have lost again." Later in the same year 1973 José A. Cárdenas, superintendent of the Edgewood Independent School District, organized Texans for Educational Excellence (later called the Intercultural Development Research Association, which devoted attention to school-finance reform. The battle for educational equity continued with Edgewood ISD v. Kirby in 1984.
Peter Irons, The Courage of Their Convictions: 16 Americans Who Fought Their Way to the Supreme Court (New York: Free Press, 1988). Betsy Levin, ed., Future Directions for School Finance Reform (Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1974). U.S. Reports (Vol. 411, Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court, October Term 1972, Washington: GPO, 1974).