The increasingly congested intersection of law and public policy is fraught with unintended consequences. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the education area. Recent decades provide provocative examples. Court desegregation decisions endeavoring to increase school integration levels-especially court decisions mandating forced busing in many urban public school districts-paradoxically fueled suburban migration for many families with school-age children and departures from public to private schools. One result is a reduced possibility of district-level school integration in many urban areas, especially in the North.
School finance litigation battles have also generated unintended consequences. For example, in California, judicial orders to equalize per pupil spending state-wide through a more centralized school funding system led to a sought-after dilution of the historically tight nexus between local property wealth and school and per pupil spending levels. Consequently, California property owners can no longer safely assume that local taxing efforts will largely benefit local schools. Not surprisingly, property owners' willingness to tax themselves for the benefit of public schools diminished. Although a precise causal account is both contested and complex, what is objectively clear is that California, once among the nation's leaders in terms of its willingness to invest in public elementary and secondary education, dropped precipitously in the aftermath of the Serrano decision. To be sure, while Serrano is certainly not the only reason for the decline in per pupil spending in California, it is certainly among the reasons. While the Serrano plaintiffs sought to equalize per pupil spending by raising the spending floor, they learned that judicially-mandated equalization could also be achieved by lowering per pupil spending ceilings.
The Unintended Legal and Policy Consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act (The 2006 Winthrop and Frances Lane Lecture),
86 Neb. L. Rev.
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