The 74 interview: Jack Coons on rethinking school funding, restoring authority to low-income families and his role in the Serrano v. Priest cases

Special to redefinED

Editor’s note: Long-time education choice advocate and redefinED guest columnist Jack Coons recently sat for a three-hour interview with Bellwether Education co-founder Andrew J. Rotherham and Emmeline Zhao, senior editor for special projects at The 74. The result, in Rothman’s words, was “a thoughtful, thorough and once-in-a-lifetime conversation” in which Coons reiterated his decades-long belief in education equity and academic quality for all children, regardless of income level. Here are the opening paragraphs of the post, with a link to the full piece on The 74. Be sure to watch the video of Coons at the conclusion of the interview transcript.    

It was a warm, sun-splashed day when Emmeline Zhao and I visited Jack Coons at his cozy bungalow in Berkeley, California. That day his son and granddaughter, an accomplished dancer, happened to be visiting for spring break, and the mood was light, with three generations under the same roof. A law professor by training, Coons was a fixture on the education landscape in California for decades and — unbeknownst to most — an influential character for public education across the country.

He litigated the three landmark Serrano v. Priest cases, which challenged California’s school funding structure, arguing that the state created a gross financial disparity between wealthy and poor districts due to its reliance on taxes on local real property.

Coons also created odd alliances around school choice and crafted one of the most enduring intellectual partnerships in education with Stephen Sugarman. Coons credits this to a generosity of spirit and shared intellectual curiosity. Whatever the reason, their partnership left its mark on California education policy and politics in ways that are still felt today.

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