Do Court Cases Matter?

Last Updated: October 27, 2010

This article appeared in the October 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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A recently released article discusses the difficulty in accurately measuring the effects of school finance litigation.

In "School Finance and Courts: Does Reform Matter, and How Can We Tell?" which was recently published in Teachers College Record, authors Bruce Baker and Kevin Welner respond to a book by Eric Hanushek and Al Linseth that concludes school finance lawsuits have had “disappointing” results.

In Courting Failure: How School Finance Lawsuits Exploit Judges' Good Intentions and Harm Our Children, Hanushek and Linseth looked at cases in Kentucky, New Jersey, Wyoming, and Massachusetts, and concluded that, except for Massachusetts, the rulings in the cases did not improve student performance

Baker and Welner were inspired to revisit these four finance lawsuits after the book was cited in a U.S. Supreme Court opinion for its proposition that increased funding, and specifically judicially-ordered funding, do not improve student achievement. The opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito in Horne v. Flores, weighed in on Arizona’s treatment of English Language Learners in public schools. (RSFN has followed the Flores case regularly; see coverage of this decision at

The book had not been released for review before the case was heard.

In "School Finance and Courts" Baker characterizes the Hanushek and LInseth book as “advocacy research,” poorly grounded in method and application, which could be used to prove either side of the argument at hand.

The paper is not meant to specifically refute the claims of Hanushek and Linseth, but to point out that the outcomes for students are nuanced and that analyzing impacts of court decisions requires careful and refined research.

The authors also call for good research evidence for other school reform strategies currently being touted.

Read more:

The abstract of the article can be read on the Teachers College Record website:

The interview with Bruce Baker is available here:

Full text of Baker and Welner’s article:

Read more from the October 2010 Rural Policy Matters.