In 1988, 52 school districts and ten parents brought suit claiming that unequal school funding created disparities in educational opportunity that violated the Minnesota Constitution. The trial court held that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution and that wealth-based disparities between districts created an “impermissible absence of uniformity” in the state’s schools. In 1993, the Supreme Court of Minnesota reversed the trial court in Skeen v. State, 505 N.W. 2d 299, despite affirming that education is a fundamental right. The Court’s reasoning relied heavily on the plaintiffs’ concession that the schools provided an adequate education “because the state’s portion of the funding is equally distributed–and admittedly provides the funding for an adequate education–we believe that the present system of education funding withstands constitutional scrutiny.”

In 1995, the Minneapolis NAACP sued the state, claiming that students in that city were denied a basic education, in violation of the state constitution’s education and equal protection clauses. In 2000, the parties settled with an agreement creating a new accountability system for the Minneapolis schools and expanding the access of low-income families to magnet and suburban schools.

In May 2017, the state’s Court of Appeals reversing the District Court dismissed a case filed by a group of Minneapolis parents in Hennepin District court (Alejandro Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota). The case claimed that school children in public schools throughout the state of Minnesota, including the city of Minneapolis, the City of Saint Paul, and their adjacent suburban communities, are largely segregated by race and socioeconomic status, and that a “segregated education is per se an inadequate education under the Education Clause of the Minnesota State Constitution.”

The Court recognized that the State Supreme Court in Skeen v. State, 505 N.W.2d 299 (Minn. 1993) had indicated that the constitution’s education clause may be read to guarantee students an adequate education. It distinguished that precedent, however, by stating that the supreme court’s references to an “adequate” education, in that case, focused on funding issues and the allocation of educational resources, and did not extend to the adequacy claims related to school segregation raised by the present plaintiffs.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Report, “Public School Finance Programs of the United States and Canada,” describes the Minnesota school funding system in detail, as of the 1998-99 school year.

Last updated: April 2017