Archive for Saturday, January 8, 2005

Other states also facing school funding dilemmas

January 8, 2005


— Kansas lawmakers won't be the only ones in the country struggling this year with how to comply with court decisions that order changes in how public schools are funded.

Widely considered the next generation of civil rights litigation, the type of lawsuit that led to the Kansas ruling is similar to dozens of other cases filed across the country during the past decade. Since 2002, the high courts in Kansas and four other states have sided with the plaintiffs in school funding challenges, with the cases resulting in large education spending increases or proposed increases.

In Kansas, the state Supreme Court has given the Legislature until April 12 to increase funding and make other changes to meet a "constitutional duty" to improve public education.

In Montana, lawmakers are in the same situation after the state Supreme Court in November upheld a lower court's ruling that said the state's system of funding public schools was unconstitutional. A new funding method must be in place by October 2005.

And though the Texas Supreme Court has yet to hear a school funding challenge, lawmakers in the state plan to consider major changes during their upcoming session.

In Arkansas, lawmakers agreed last year to a landmark education overhaul that included school mergers, a revised $2.7 billion school-funding formula and $370 million annually in additional money for schools. The Legislature is making upgrading school facilities and equipment its top priority for the session that starts Monday.

In California, officials agreed in August to settle a long-running class-action lawsuit targeting shoddy facilities, outdated textbooks and unqualified teachers for nearly $1 billion.

The cases are an outgrowth of an experiment that started in the 1970s after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in a Detroit school desegregation case. The plaintiffs wanted to use the suburbs to help integrate the mainly black student body, but the court said no. Without the suburbs, school integration proved elusive, said Chris Hansen, a desegregation attorney for the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York.

"At that point, people said let's try something different," Hansen said.

In the place of school desegregation cases, attorneys began to focus on the system of using property taxes to pay for schools. They argued children from low-income families were disadvantaged by the system because property taxes raise more money in wealthy communities than poor communities.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance is similar to several other cases decided around the country in recent years. Here's a list of additional recent cases and their outcomes:¢ NEW YORK: The state's highest court ruled in 2003 that New York City schools were not being funded adequately enough to give students a sound, basic education. Three court-appointed referees have estimated it will take $23 billion to comply, including $5.6 billion more a year in operating aid for city schools.¢ NORTH CAROLINA: The state Supreme Court in July affirmed nearly all of a lower-court ruling, which found the state must do more to help education in poorer counties. In response to the July ruling, the state created a $22 million pilot program designed to help teachers and at-risk students in 16 poor districts. The State Board of Education has estimated it will cost $220 million to comply fully with the court order.¢ MARYLAND: A Baltimore judge in August ordered city and state officials to provide between $30 million to $45 million in additional funding for city schools, after finding that the state is underfunding the system by millions of dollars, and that a draconian cost-cutting plan to eliminate a $58 million schools budget deficit would degrade the quality of education. The State Board of Education has voted to ask the state Court of Special Appeals to vacate the order.¢ MASSACHUSETTS: A Superior Court judge found the state hadn't met its constitutional duty to adequately fund its schools in an advisory ruling issued in April. The Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in October but has yet to issue a ruling in the suit, which was brought by students from 19 public school districts who say they're shortchanged by the state. Lawyers for the students have asked the state's highest court to order a cost analysis of how much it would take to fix the problems and then hold the Legislature accountable.Source: Associated Press

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