Time For New Critters In The Zoo

Anyone who has followed the education funding lawsuits across this country knows that the big three cases that brought New Hampshire into this mess are the 1989-1991Texas, Montana and Kentucky education funding lawsuits, along with a reference to a similar suit in Massachusetts.

45 states have fallen victim to this scheme whereby state supreme courts reinterpret their constitutions in favor of anyone with any faint complaint asking for mandated funding to either “equalize” or provide and “adequate” education. This state interest started after an attempt in California in the late 60’s to make education a fundamental right and unlock voter’s pocketbooks by court order as opposed to ballots.

Now these lawsuits have had a chance to settle the problem of “under funding.” And what have we learned from the endless litigation?

Let’s look at 1989 Kentucky ruling in Rose v. Council for Better Education in which the Kentucky Supreme Court declared education a fundamental right and mandated equitable and adequate funding for public schools. This was the camel’s nose under the tent.

On February 13, 2007 Judge Thomas Wingate of the Franklin Circuit Court dismissed Young v. Williams, Kentucky’s school funding lawsuit. Plaintiffs in the case argued that the school funding system in Kentucky is “inadequate and arbitrarily determined.” The plaintiffs wanted another cost of education study. Judge Wingate said that the Kentucky Constitution’s strong separation of powers clause prevents him from ordering a study. In addition, he ruled that there was no “objective evidence of shortcomings in Kentucky’s education system,” and that the significant improvement in student output measures following the legislative response to Rose is evidence in itself of the adequacy of Kentucky schools.

June 12, 2007, coalition of Kentucky school districts dropped a lawsuit aimed at forcing state lawmakers to spend more money on the schools. (How much have they spent in school funds so far on lawyers?)

I agree Judge Wingate has no power to order the legislature to implement yet another Augenblick type study, in fact he has no power, nor does the State Supreme Court to order the Kentucky Legislature to do anything regarding the legislative branch representing the people of Kentucky. But his statement “significant improvement” is another matter. Kentucky was plagued with phony testing showing improvement after the first of several billions in lawsuit money was pumped into the system. It would be nice to see Judge Wingate’s proof of “significant improvement.”

Then we have Texas where in 2005 the State Supreme Court said this:

"We recognize that the standard of arbitrariness we have applied is very deferential to the Legislature, but as we have explained, we believe that standard is what the Constitution requires. Nevertheless, the standard can be violated. There is substantial evidence, which again the district court credited, that the public education system has reached the point where continued improvement will not be possible absent significant change, whether that change take the form of increased funding, improved efficiencies, or better methods of education . ... But an impending constitutional violation is not an existing one, and it remains to be seen whether the system’s predicted drift toward constitutional inadequacy will be avoided by legislative reaction to widespread calls for changes."

The Texas court wants to retain control but there is the significant problem they have explaining where the money will come from for new school spending and where it has gone since 1989. The Supreme Court in Texas is elected and they have to be careful about whom they order around.

How about Montana? There is a new Democrat Governor there and he has pumped a 26% increase into the K-12 schools and $57 into colleges since 2005 after his election. This is recent 26% is on top of the untold millions “invested by court mandate” since their 1989 Helena suit.

Governor Schweitzer is now desperately calling for some accountability from the school spenders. He wants to see consolidation of administration but that looks a little grim as long as he has the courts in control of the legislature’s job and – his own.

The Montana Quality Education Coalition, the organization that filed an earlier lawsuit, began gathering information in 2007 from districts statewide for use in pressing for a legislative fix before the 2009 regular session. They have not ruled out another suit. Good luck Governor!

Does more money solve education problems?

Do courts have the answers to how education should be funded?

Have schools learned anything other than how to litigate if you can’t educate?

New Hampshire voters can learn from the thirty years of education funding lawsuits and keep the quality of education and life we have here. All we have to do is find and vote for legislators and a governor who will not surrender their obligations as elected officials or trade away our good local schools.