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EDUCATION JUSTICE - ELC's National Program August 20, 2015
 
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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 Washington.

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 Court.

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.

Also scheduled 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.

In 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 the state.

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 dollars."

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 purpose.

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.

Related Stories:

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

mhunter@edlawcenter.org

973-624-1815, x 19

 
     
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