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April 23, 2012

On April 4, 2012, the Lewis & Clark County District Court in Montana signed a Consent Decree negotiated between the State and the Montana Quality Education Coalition (MQEC), which resolves the MQEC v. State case filed in November 2011. MQEC challenged the under-funding of K-12 education, based on a funding statute enacted to cure the Columbia Falls v. State court ruling against the State in 2005.

In its 2005 ruling, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court and declared the then-current state school funding system unconstitutional under the state constitution's education article. The Legislature responded by increasing funding and revising the funding system, which included a funding formula provision that is "self-executing and includes a mechanism for annual inflationary adjustments."

After the State failed to sufficiently fund the inflationary adjustments in the 2011 legislative session, MQEC filed its Complaint, asking the court to "compel the State to take specific steps to provide Montana public schools with the statutorily mandated inflationary adjustments." Specifically, the State intended to fund an inflationary adjustment of 1.6%, when the law resulted in a calculated adjustment of 2.43%.

The State, in the Consent Decree, agreed to the 2.43% inflationary adjustment. The decree also states that, "Economic hardship or a change in financial circumstances of the State shall not serve as a basis for modification of this Consent Decree."

In the last two years, plaintiffs have challenged school funding cuts in several states, including New Jersey, North Carolina, Kansas, New York, and Montana. New York's highest court hears oral argument on April 26, and the Kansas trial begins June 4. Plaintiffs in MT, NC and NJ obtained favorable court orders, and the states of NJ and MT agreed to replace constitutionally required funding. The NC ruling is on appeal.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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