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
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.