Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Race, class and federalism : a history and analysis of San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973).

Wagstaff, Caroline Victoria Anderson (2001) Race, class and federalism : a history and analysis of San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94711) (KAR id:94711)

PDF (Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of this thesis enables read aloud functionality of the text.)
Language: English

Download this file
[thumbnail of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of this thesis enables read aloud functionality of the text.]
Official URL:


The plaintiffs in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973) challenged the constitutionality of the school finance system existing in all states except Hawaii. The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, denied the plaintiffs’ claims. Rodriguez did not precipitate immediate change and thus its historical significance was not immediately identifiable. As a result, historians have mostly overlooked the case. The significance of the case, however, lies in the reasons for the Court’s rejection of the plaintiffs’ claims. Where Brown v. Board of Education dealt with the rights of black children, Rodriguez dealt with the rights of poor children. The plaintiffs sought a political weapon with which to fight class discrimination. The reliance upon the property tax for school funding ensured that the expenditure per pupil reflected the wealth of the surrounding neighbourhood. According to the plaintiffs, the school finance system discriminated on the basis of race and class, thereby violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. According to the defendants, however, plaintiffs’ claims challenged one of the fundamental features of federalism: the right of the state to choose localism in education. The rejection of the plaintiffs’ claims marked the Supreme Court’s refusal to further extend constitutional guarantees of equality. It determined that economic rights were not protected by the Constitution, thereby defining the outer parameters of constitutional equality. The opposing arguments encapsulated the contrasting political ideologies of the period, and this dissertation places Rodriguez within the broader historical environment in order to illustrate its historical significance. The case emerged from the new definition of equality that had resulted from the activism of the 1960s, yet the issues it raised extended far beyond its original context. Rodriguez held vast ideological implications regarding the congruity between race and class within American society, it raised institutional considerations of the appropriate role of the Supreme Court within the political process, and it seemingly challenged localism within education. The forces of race, class and federalism were being redefined in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. An examination of Rodriguez provides an insight into the nature of these changes and the manner in which society reacted to these changes.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94711
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Legal case; School finance litigation
Subjects: K Law > KZ Law of Nations
L Education > LC Special aspects of education > LC5201 Education extension. Adult education. Continuing education
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2022 15:44 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2022 15:44 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.