The public schools enroll 746,000 students: 57% White, 34% African American, and 6% Latino, with 58% living in poverty, and 2% learning English. The State spends $8,773 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof between the ages of seven and twenty-one years…Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.” Ala. Const., art. XIV, § 256.
“No money raised for the support of the public schools shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian or denominational school.” Ala. Const., art. XIV, § 263.
In 1956, in response to Brown v. Board of Education, Alabama amended its constitution to state that “nothing in this Constitution should be construed as creating or recognizing” the right to an education. The trial court, in Alabama Coalition for Equity (ACE) v. Hunt, below, declared that this amendment violated the federal constitution and was, therefore, void. However, since the Alabama Supreme Court did not review that holding, the 1956 amendment remained. In 2004, Alabama voters defeated a proposed amendment to remove this and all language regarding segregation from State constitutional clauses.
In 1997, in ACE v. Hunt, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a trial court ruling that the State school funding system violated the constitution because it did not provide “equitable and adequate educational opportunities” for all students. The Court also held that the Legislature needed “a reasonable time” to enact a remedy. The State revised its funding system and improved facilities across the State.
In 2002, shortly before a hearing on whether the State had remedied the violation after “a reasonable time,” the Alabama Supreme Court, on its own initiative and long after its jurisdiction in the case had ended, dismissed this case in its entirety. The composition of this elected Court had changed in the intervening years.
In 2008, in Lynch v. State, plaintiffs filed a different type of school funding and educational opportunity lawsuit in federal District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the State constitution’s property tax restrictions, which allegedly limited education funding severely for African-American and other rural children, violated the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment and the federal Civil Rights Act. In 2011, the District Court acknowledged that the challenged property tax restrictions substantially harmed minority groups but concluded that they did not violate the U.S. Constitution or the Civil Rights Act. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, and in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review.