Fiscal Equity for all whether you’re a Prince or a Pauper…Serrano I and SB90


Prior to the 70’s, there was a large disparity in funding to poorer neighborhood schools than to their wealthy counterparts. Many parents felt their students were not receiving an equal education under their Constitutional rights due to this inequity of funding to certain area schools. One parent in particular decided to take action and become the Robin Hood of this cause by bringing to light that the paupers should be educated as equally as the prince and princesses of California.

In 1971, in Serrano v. Priest (Serrano I) the state’s high court ruled that the school finance system violated equal protection because the property tax base of school districts varied widely, resulting in very different amounts raised for schools, on a per-pupil basis. These disparities in wealth and education funding as a result of local property taxes violated the 14th amendment. Serrano originated in Los Angeles County Superior Court as a class action suit on behalf of a class of all California public school students.

The case reflected a few issues of the times: inadequate resources and funding inequities between school districts in California were becoming a reality. Serrano, a parent, filed suit against the California finance system, stating that the fiscal inequalities across the state denied equal resources to all students; rich students and poor students and the battle against discrimination. Property value determined a district’s wealth as evidenced by the poor districts receiving more state assistance and the rich less. Serrano’s case was built upon the premise that without equal funding and fiscal protection, all students will not receive an equal education. Serrano argued his case by comparing two demographically different school districts in Los Angeles County; Baldwin Park and Beverly Hills (FindLaw, 2008). And what was the reason for this disparity? Beverly Hills had much greater property wealth than Baldwin Park. It was differences like this throughout the state that fueled this disparity and kept all students from receiving an adequate and equitable education.

The Senate Bill 90 of 1972 followed Serrano I. The bill established a system of revenue controls that limited a district’s general purpose revenues. Each district’s revenue limit was based on the state aid and local property taxes it received in 1972‐73. Each year, districts’ revenue limits would be adjusted for inflation. So called “high wealth” districts would receive lower annual inflation adjustments while “low wealth” districts would receive higher inflation adjustments. This bill established Average Daily Attendance (ADA) and per pupil funding rules.

Over time, this idea meant to bring districts equity in funding. The strategy was known as the “squeeze formula.” Critics at the time estimated that this method would take 40 years to achieve the level of equalization the court required.   While SB 90 was not a bold step toward revenue equalization, it was the first step in a process that reversed school finance policy in place since the early 1900’s when the legislature assigned property taxes to local governments (Rueben, 2003). The effect was an increase in the foundation level from $355 to $765 for elementary and an increase from $488 to $950 for high school students (Educacy, 2010).

Serrano I and SB90 were at the forefront of attempting to provide all students with fiscal equity to receive an adequate and equal education around the state.  This does not only affect the poor and wealthy areas but also minorities and people of other races. Even though this was an honest effort, it wasn’t as effective as was hoped. Equity is still something


Educacy. (2010). CA Education History: How did we get here? Retrieved from


Rueben, K. & Cerdan, P. (2003). Fiscal effects of voter approval requirements on local

            governments. San Francisco, CA: Public Policy Institute of California.

(2008, March 26). Separate and unequal: Serrano played an important role in development of

school-district policy. FindLaw. Retrieved from