The Failure of Education Federalism

53 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2016 Last revised: 9 Oct 2018

Date Written: November 28, 2016


Education federalism is failing our children. Especially since the Great Recession, states have been less and less likely to invest in public education or to be amenable to structural education reform initiatives. In some states, the executive or judiciary has attempted to counteract this trend. In a small but growing number of other states, checks and balances effectively no longer occur, at least when it comes to financing public education. Yet, the interest of having a population across the country with at least a minimal level of education — indeed, the interest in avoiding creating an permanent underclass through our own public schools — is an interest all branches and levels of government share. It is an interest grounded in both liberty and equality, and it is threatened. This article contends that the present reality of public education in Michigan foreshadows a dystopic future likely to occur in a growing number of states unless one or more branches of the federal government embrace a different model of federalism, cooperative federalism. In particular, the judiciary can create a federal floor of educational quality via Substantive Due Process and Equal Protection Clause jurisprudence, especially if it is willing to consider reviewing educational quality claims under a rational basis with bite standard.

Keywords: education, public, financing, federalism, reform

Suggested Citation

Bowman, Kristine L., The Failure of Education Federalism (November 28, 2016). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Kristine L. Bowman (Contact Author)

Michigan State University ( email )

620 Farm Lane
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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