We are unable to agree that this case, which in significant aspects is sui generis, may be so neatly fitted into the conventional mosaic of constitutional analysis under the Equal Protection Clause. As we have said, the undisputed importance of education will not alone cause this Court to depart from the usual standard for reviewing a State's social and economic legislation. Its six schools, housing approximately 5,000 students, are situated in a residential community quite unlike the Edgewood District. But the State contends that the disparities do not invidiously discriminate against children and families in districts such as Edgewood, because the Texas scheme is designed to provide an adequate education for all, with local autonomy to go beyond that as individual school districts desire and are able. But the Harper Court did not see it that way. He also was reluctant to find that poverty was a suspect class under the Equal Protection Clause. Unlike other provisions of the Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause confers no substantive rights and creates no substantive liberties.
However described, it is clear that appellees' suit asks this Court to extend its most exacting scrutiny to review a system that allegedly discriminates against a large, diverse, and amorphous class, unified only by the common factor of residence in districts that happen to have less taxable wealth than other districts. The case was San Antonio Independent School District v. The Texas system of school financing might be regarded as discriminating 1 against 'poor' persons whose incomes fall below some identifiable level of poverty or who might be characterized as functionally 'indigent,' 49 or Page 20 2 against those who are relatively poorer than others, 50 or 3 against all those who, irrespective of their personal incomes, happen to reside in relatively poorer school districts. The opinion repeatedly emphasizes the comparative financial status of districts and early in the opinion it describes appellees' class as being composed of 'all. This case represents far more than a challenge to the manner in which Texas provides for the education of its children. The lesson of these cases in addressing the question now before the Court is plain. For example, Page 127 the State prescribes required courses.
It is equally inevitable that some localities are going to be blessed with more taxable assets than others. . This comparison between the least and most affluent districts in the San Antonio area serves to illustrate the manner in which the dual system of finance operates and to indicate the extent to which substantial disparities exist despite the State's impressive progress in recent years. In an era that has witnessed a consistent trend toward centralization of the functions of government, local sharing of responsibility for public education has survived. Clearly, this suit has nothing to do with local decisionmaking with respect to educational policy or even educational spending. They recognize that what is at stake in this case is the quality of the Page 83 public education provided Texas children in the districts in which they live.
A century of Supreme Court adjudication under the Equal Protection Clause affirmatively supports the application of the traditional standard of review, which requires only that the State's system be shown to bear some rational relationship to legitimate state purposes. They do contend, however, that whatever the differences in per-pupil spending among Texas districts, there are no discriminatory consequences for the children of the disadvantaged districts. Moreover, if local taxation for local expenditures were an unconstitutional method of providing for education then it might be an equally impermissible means of providing other necessary services customarily financed largely from local property taxes, including local police and fire protection, public health and hospitals, and public utility facilities of various kinds. Defendants included the State Board of Education, the commissioner of education, the state attorney general, and the Bexar County Board of Trustees. Because of differences in expenditure levels occasioned by disparities in property tax income, appellees claim that children in less affluent districts have been made the subject of invidious discrimination. Pluralism also affords some opportunity for experimentation, innovation, and a healthy competition for educational excellence.
But such an opportunity may enhance the individual's enjoyment of those rights, not only during but also following school attendance. The right of appeal itself was not absolutely denied to those too poor to pay; but because of the cost of a transcript and of counsel, the appeal was a substantially less meaningful right for the poor than for the rich. Examination of the District Court's opinion and of appellees' complaint, briefs, and contentions at oral argument suggests, however, at least three ways in which the discrimination claimed here might be described. Thus, while on its face the Texas scheme may merely discriminate between local districts, the impact of that discrimination falls directly upon the children whose educational opportunity is dependent upon where they happen to live. The Texas plan is not the result of hurried, ill-conceived legislation. Nevertheless, the fundamental importance of education is amply indicated by the prior decisions of this Court, by the unique status accorded public education by our society, and by the close relationship between education and some of our most basic constitutional values. Both centralized and decentralized plans for educational funding not involving such interdistrict discrimination have been put forward.
A principled reading of what this Court has done reveals that it has applied a spectrum of standards in reviewing discrimination allegedly violative of the Equal Protection Clause. First, in support of their charge that the system discriminates against the 'poor,' appellees have made no effort to demonstrate that it operates to the peculiar disadvantage of any class fairly definable as indigent, or as composed of persons whose incomes are beneath any Page 23 designated poverty level. None of Texas' school districts, however, has been content to rely alone on funds from the Foundation Program. Exercise of the franchise, it is contended, cannot be divorced from the educational foundation of the voter. We are told that in every prior case involving a wealth classification, the members of the disadvantaged class have 'shared two distinguishing characteristics: because Page 118 of their impecunity they were completely unable to pay for some desired benefit, and as a consequence, they sustained an absolute deprivation of a meaningful opportunity to enjoy that benefit. Justice Harlan's concern correctly articulates the limits of the fundamental-rights rationale employed in the Court's equal protection decisions: 'The Court today does not 'pick out particular human activities, characterize them as 'fundamental,' and give them added protection. That this is the situation may be readily demonstrated.
The constitutional standard under the Equal Protection Clause is whether the challenged state action rationally furthers a legitimate state purpose or interest. In part, local differences are attributable to differences in the rates of taxation or in the degree to which the market value for any category of property varies from its assessed value. But of most immediate and direct concern must be the demonstrated effect of education on the exercise of the franchise by the electorate. The Court Page 104 purported to test the statute under its traditional standard whether there is some rational basis for the discrimination effected. Indeed, one of the major Page 43 sources of controversy concerns the extent to which there is a demonstrable correlation between educational expenditures and the quality of education 86—an assumed correlation underlying virtually every legal conclusion drawn by the District Court in this case. Higher salaries are guaranteed to teachers having more years of experience and possessing more advanced degrees.
In these districts, the Texas system utterly fails to extend a realistic choice to parents because the property tax, which is the only revenue-raising mechanism extended to school districts, is practically and legally unavailable. The task in every case should be to determine the extent to which constitutionally guaranteed rights are dependent on interests not mentioned in the Constitution. It is not enough that the Texas system before us seeks to achieve the valid, rational purpose of maximizing local initiative; the means chosen by the State must also be rationally related to the end sought to be achieved. I The first Texas State Constitution, promulgated upon Texas' entry into the Union in 1845, provided for the establishment of a system of free schools. These data included a detailed study of a sample of 110 Texas school districts 9 for the 1967—1968 school year conducted by Professor Joel S. We thus conclude that the Texas system does not operate to the peculiar disadvantage of any suspect class.
Empirical examination might well buttress an assumption that the ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-housed are among the most ineffective participants in the political process, and that they derive the least enjoyment from the benefits of the First Amendment. President's Commission on School Finance, supra, n. We must decide, first, whether the Texas system of financing public education operates to the disadvantage of some suspect class or impinges upon a fundamental right explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution, thereby requiring strict judicial scrutiny. North Carolina, , 1971 ; Gardner v. They further enjoy the power to make numerous other decisions with respect to the operation of the schools.