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SCHOOL FUNDING LITIGATION HOT TOPIC IN STATE COURTS
Many States, U.S.A. -- As of August 2015, school
funding litigations seeking better educational opportunities for underserved
students continue in state trial courts and supreme courts across the country,
including in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, New Jersey,
New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and
In the latest development, the Washington Supreme Court imposed
a $100,000 per day sanction on the State, in the ongoing McCleary case.
Both the South Carolina and Washington Supreme Courts declared
their states' school funding systems unconstitutional, in Abbeville
v. State (S.C. 2014) and McCleary v. State (Wash.
2012). Both supreme courts retained jurisdiction. After the
Abbeville decision, the South Carolina Senate and House established
task forces to study the situation and recommend remedial measures
in time for their 2016 session.
In the face of a huge tax cut, Kansas slashed funding to its schools,
which led to the Gannon v. State of Kansas lawsuit.
Plaintiffs claimed and state courts have agreed that the cuts made
the state's school funding system inadequate and inequitable, in
violation of the Kansas Constitution. The state resolved the equity
problem in 2014, but made additional changes in the 2015 session.
After a hearing, the district court found the state funding system
is now violating both the adequacy and equity requirements of the
constitution. That decision is on appeal to the Kansas Supreme
Also in Kansas, plaintiffs from wealthy school districts filed
an anti-equity lawsuit in federal court, claiming that the state
funding system violates their rights under several provisions of
the U.S. constitution. After district court and Tenth Circuit decisions,
plaintiffs' sole remaining claim for trial is the assertion that
the local tax cap cannot survive a rational basis review under
the equal protection clause.
On September 1, the Texas Supreme Court will hear oral argument
in the educational opportunity and school funding case, Texas Taxpayer
and Student Fairness Coalition (TTSFC) v. Williams. Several
Texas organizations and the Education
Law Center (ELC) filed an amicus brief in the Texas
Supreme Court in support of the economically disadvantaged, English
Language Learner (ELL), and African-American students. They urge
the Court to affirm the trial court's ruling. After the trial court
heard evidence in nearly four months of testimony, it declared
the current Texas school funding system unconstitutional, on August
28, 2014. The state appealed.
The parties in Maisto v. State of New York are
preparing proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law for
the trial court, after a
trial earlier this year. A ruling is expected next year.
In Arizona and Colorado, plaintiffs are asking the courts to uphold
and enforce voter-adopted state constitutional amendments that
require certain funding increases for the public schools, such
as inflation adjustments. The Arizona plaintiffs, in Cave
Creek Unified Sch. Dist. v. Martin, assert that the
state must adjust its education funding for inflation in accordance
with the Arizona Constitution, as amended by Proposition 301 in
2000. The parties in Dwyer v. State of Colorado await
a decision from the Colorado Supreme Court on a motion to dismiss.
Plaintiffs seek enforcement of Amendment 23, also adopted by the
voters in 2000 in that state.
The parties in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education
Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell are preparing for a trial
that will begin in October.
Also, the attorneys representing the parties in Citizens
for Strong Schools (CSS) v. State of Florida are in
the midst of discovery in preparation for a trial scheduled
to begin in 2016.
for trial in 2016, the Martinez v. State of New Mexico litigation
will examine plaintiffs' claims that the State denies their children's
constitutional right to access the educational opportunities
they need to succeed due to State-created arbitrary obstacles,
including unfair and non-transparent school grading and teacher
evaluation systems, which drive quality teachers and leaders
from schools disproportionately enrolling English Learner (EL)
and low-income students. Plaintiffs further argue that
the State's failure to support and implement fully the Indian
Education Act, the Hispanic Education Act, and the Bilingual
Multicultural Education Act deprive students of the cultural
programs that are essential to a sufficient education, as required
under the New Mexico Constitution.
New Jersey, parents and students in Bacon v. NJ Department
of Education (NJDOE) have filed an appeal seeking
to enforce an NJDOE order for K-12 school funding and high quality
preschool under the state's weighted school funding statute.
The appeal to the Appellate Division is the latest effort by
the plaintiffs to ensure all students in 16 "Bacon" districts
receive the "thorough and efficient" education guaranteed by
the NJ Constitution.
This fall, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will receive briefs
and schedule oral argument on the state's motion to dismiss, in William Penn
Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Education, an educational
opportunity and school funding case. This
suit comes in the wake of devastating cuts to teachers, support
staff, programs, and essential resources in Philadelphia, Reading,
York, and many other high-poverty rural and urban communities across
On August 28, a Tennessee trial court will hear oral argument
on the state's motion to dismiss and plaintiffs' motion for class
certification, in Hamilton County Board of Education, et
al. v. Haslam. Plaintiffs claim a violation of the state
constitution and note that the Basic Education Plan (BEP) Review
Committee report in 2014 "concluded that the General Assembly is
underfunding education in Tennessee by hundreds of millions of
In Mississippi, a chancery court granted the state's motion to
dismiss in a case asking the court to require the legislature to
fully fund the state's funding statute each year, even though the
statute includes a provision regarding years in which it is not
fully funded, according to the court.
In a tax structure case, not an educational opportunity case,
Ketchikan Borough claims that Alaska's school funding system violates
the state constitution's provision that prohibits the state from
adopting a dedicated tax, that is, a tax earmarked for a specific
As legal efforts to vindicate students' constitutional rights
to educational opportunity continue in the state courts, ELC will
continue to report on these cases---and new cases that may be filed.
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