K-12 public schools in North Dakota enroll about 95,000 students, with 32% in poverty, 4% learning English, 15% minorities, and annual expenditures of close to $890 million. (Most recent NCES data)
The Supreme Court of North Dakota has found that education is a fundamental right in the state and that the state’s school funding scheme must bear a close correspondence to legislative goals. Plaintiffs and the state negotiated and resolved the issues raised in the most recent case, with a new funding formula and increased state education aid.
There have been no recent developments in educational opportunity litigation in North Dakota.
In 1994, in Bismarck Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. State, the Supreme Court of North Dakota concluded in a 3-2 decision that the state’s school funding system did not bear a sufficiently close correspondence to the asserted goals of providing equal educational opportunity and supporting education with state funds. However, the state constitution requires agreement of four justices to declare a statute unconstitutional, so the court could not deem the statutory funding scheme unconstitutional.
Plaintiffs in Williston Public School District No. 1 v. State claimed that the state’s education finance system provided inadequate and disparate funding. On the eve of trial, in 2006, plaintiffs agreed to stay the case based on the state’s commitment to a funding increase and a negotiation process. As a result of the negotiations, in 2007, the state passed a new funding formula and increased state education funding by $90 million, and plaintiffs withdrew their suit.
“A high degree of intelligence, patriotism, integrity and morality on the part of every voter in a government by the people being necessary in order to insure the continuance of that government and the prosperity and happiness of the people, the legislative assembly shall make provision for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools which shall be open to all children of the state of North Dakota and free from sectarian control.” N.D. Const. art. 8, § 1.
“The legislative assembly shall provide for a uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, beginning with the primary and extending through all grades up to and including schools of higher education...” N.D. Const. art. 8, § 2.
“In all schools instruction shall be given as far as practicable in those branches of knowledge that tend to impress upon the mind the vital importance of truthfulness, temperance, purity, public spirit, and respect for honest labor of every kind. ...” N.D. Const. art. 8, § 3.
“The legislative assembly shall take such other steps as may be necessary to prevent illiteracy, secure a reasonable degree of uniformity in course of study, and to promote industrial, scientific, and agricultural improvements.” N.D. Const. art. 8, § 4.
In a case challenging the constitutionality of a compulsory education law, the Supreme Court of North Dakota wrote regarding the education provisions in the state constitution: “These constitutional provisions all disclose that the state has a compelling interest in requiring minimum standards of education to insure adequate education of the children of the state to enable them to be viable citizens in the community.” State v. Rivinius 328 N.W.2d 220, 228 (1982).
In Bismarck Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. State, the court wrote:
The education provisions of our state constitution have “at least equal standing” with the guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech and press, and the State has a compelling interest in establishing minimum standards of education to ensure that our children receive an adequate education...Funding of education promotes “[a] high degree of intelligence, patriotism, integrity and morality on the part of every voter in a government by the people ... to insure the continuance of that government and the prosperity and happiness of the people” [Art. VIII, § 1, N.D. Const.] and is essential to the practical realization of the fundamental right enumerated in our state constitution: the right to a “uniform system of free public schools throughout the state” which “shall be open to all children of the state of North Dakota.” Art. VIII, §§ 1 & 2, N.D. Const. In order to meet those state constitutional requirements, the funding of education must be at least on par with the right to bring a personal injury lawsuit [ e.g., Hanson v. Williams County, supra ], and homestead rights. Mund v. Rambough, supra.
Although the statutory method for distributing funding for education may not totally deprive any student of access to the fundamental right to education, we believe the method of distributing funding for that fundamental right involves important substantive matters similar to those rights involved in cases in which we have applied the intermediate level of scrutiny. Accordingly, we analyze these equal protection claims under the intermediate level of scrutiny, and we require the distribution of funding for education to bear a close correspondence to legislative goals. 511 N.W.2d 247, 259 (1994).
North Dakota does not have a state-funded preschool program.
School districts or other providers are permitted to operate pre-K programs and may ask the superintendent of public instruction to approve those programs, but the state does not provide per pupil funding for those programs. Districts, therefore, must fund such programs from local revenue or federal funding streams.