Exploring Law and Educational Finance Reform: Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman

Jack Coons: Law, Ethics, and Educational Finance Reform

Stephen Sugarman on Jack Coons and Educational Finance Reform

Few intellectual partnerships have been as durable and productive as the one forged between Berkeley Law professors Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman over the past half century.

Coons was born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1929. He received his B.A. in history at the University of Minnesota, Duluth and graduated from Northwestern Law School, where he was Order of the Coif and managing editor of the Law Review. After practicing before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, he returned to Northwestern, where he taught for 12 years. In 1968 he joined the faculty of the Berkeley Law School and stayed there until his retirement in 1994. Sugaman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Northwestern for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. After working in a private law practice, Sugarman was recruited to the faculty of Boalt Hall, where he continues to teach today.

The two met while Coons was a young professor at Northwestern and Sugarman was in the process of deciding on what law school to attend. Although Sugarman was admitted to Harvard, he chose Northwestern based in part on the climate and opportunities represented by productive scholars like Coons. They worked together on several research projects and eventually jointly authored several influential studies on educational finance reform, including: Private Wealth and Public Education (1970) and Education by Choice: The Case for Family Control (1978). In these two interviews, Coons and Sugarman discuss their education, their years at Northwestern Law School and their introduction to the system by which schools are financed and the subsequent development of ideas for reforming that system. They also tell of their role in several important legal cases pertaining to school financing, including Serrano v. Priest (1971) and San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez (1973), and their shared interest in creating a system for providing parents with vouchers to send their children to a school of their choice.