K-12 public schools in South Dakota enroll almost 127,000 students, with 35% in poverty, 19% minorities, and annual expenditures of a little over $1 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
A state trial court held in 1995 that the state constitution does not require equal levels of per-pupil spending. Plaintiffs did not appeal. In 2006, plaintiffs brought Davis v. State, seeking (not equal but) sufficient funding for all students to receive a quality education. The South Dakota Supreme Court found for the state in 2011.
In 2011, the state supreme court held that plaintiffs failed to prove that South Dakota students were denied an adequate and quality education, which would be a violation of the state constitution’s education article, in Davis v. State (formerly South Dakota Coalition of Schools (SDCS) v. State).
In 1995, in Bezdicheck v. State, the state trial court held that the state constitution does not require equal levels of per-pupil spending. Plaintiffs did not appeal.
2006, a coalition of 59 of South Dakota’s 161 school districts, and students
and parents in those districts, filed Davis
v. State against
the state, claiming that the state's education finance system fails to provide
sufficient resources for the state’s students to obtain “an education that will
equip them to function in society as responsible citizens who can find
productive employment,” as required by the South Dakota Constitution.
The Davis plaintiffs argued that a “free, adequate and quality education” is a fundamental right under the state constitution, and contended that the education finance system bore “no relationship to the actual costs of providing an adequate education” or to the state’s own “academic achievement and performance standards.” A cost study commissioned by the coalition reported that the state’s schools were under-funded by $133 million to $400 million.
The Davis trial court held in favor of the state, and in 2011, the state supreme court held that “plaintiffs’ evidence raises serious questions,” but fails to prove that South Dakota students are denied an adequate and quality education, which, the court wrote, would prove a violation of the state constitution’s education article.
In 2009, in Olson v. Guindon, the South Dakota Supreme Court held that school districts have standing to seek a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of the school funding system, and that districts may spend district money to fund such litigation, in this instance the Davis case.
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"The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education." S.D. Const. art. VIII, § 1.
"The Legislature shall make such provision by general taxation and by authorizing the school corporations to levy such additional taxes as with the income from the permanent school fund shall secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state." S.D. Const. art. VIII, § 15.
In Davis v. State, the South Dakota Supreme Court reviewed the history of the state constitution’s education article and concluded that:
“The constitutional framers’ zealous efforts to preserve school lands as a permanent school funding source demonstrate their strong commitment to education and its significance to the citizenry and the economic and institutional development of this state. This historical context gives insight into the intent and meaning of the constitutional provisions. The Wyoming Supreme Court, interpreting a similar constitutional provision, also found historical context instructive. The court wrote:
‘From this history, we can conclude the framers intended the education article as a mandate to the state legislature to provide an education system of a character which provides [state] students with a uniform opportunity to become equipped for their future roles as citizens, participants in the political system, and competitors both economically and intellectually.’ Campbell County I, 907 P.2d at 1259 (citing Kukor v. Grover, 436 N.W.2d 568, 589-90 (Wis. 1989)). Other courts have interpreted educational mandates in their constitutions comparably. We believe the framers of South Dakota’s constitutional provision intended a similar mandate to our State Legislature.”
“We agree with the plaintiffs that the language of South Dakota’s Constitution means that all children are entitled to a free, adequate, and quality public education. The constitutional language and intent of the framers guarantee the children of South Dakota a constitutional right to an education that provides them with the opportunity to prepare for their future roles as citizens, participants in the political system, and competitors both economically and intellectually. The constitutional mandate does not contemplate a system that fails to educate all children or leaves pockets of inadequate conditions and achievement as a result of insufficient funding. As General Beadle so eloquently stated, ‘The genius of the poorest must have equal chance with the opportunity of the rich.’” (footnotes omitted)
Nevertheless, the court held that, as a legislative act, the state school funding statute “is accorded a presumption in favor of constitutionality and that presumption is not overcome until the unconstitutionality of the [statute] is clearly and unmistakably shown and there is no reasonable doubt that it violates fundamental constitutional principles.”
In conclusion, the court wrote: (1) “We hold that the South Dakota Constitution guarantees all South Dakota children a free, adequate, and quality public education which provides them with the opportunity to prepare for their future roles as citizens, participants in the political system, and competitors both economically and intellectually;” (2) “…plaintiffs’ evidence raises serious questions about [the funding system]” and “plaintiffs have also shown some groups of students are not achieving at desired levels and that some districts struggle to provide adequate facilities and qualified teachers;” but, (3) “Even so, reasonable doubt exists that the statutory funding mechanisms or level of funding are unconstitutional. We are unable to conclude that the education funding system (as it existed at the time of trial) fails to correlate to actual costs or with adequate student achievement to the point of declaring the system unconstitutional.”
In the related case, Olson v. Guindon, the supreme court said, "[i]t is undisputed that public education is of utmost importance to the state and its citizens." 771 N.W.2d 318 (S.D. 2009).
The complaint in Davis v. State, asserted that high-quality preschool is an essential resource for an adequate and quality education for the state’s many economically disadvantaged children, and that under the current school funding system, school districts do not have sufficient funds to offer this program. The state supreme court, with only a brief mention of the potential gap-closing benefits of preschool, opined that this achievement gap exists in all states and no state has managed to eliminate this gap.
Education Justice/Education Law Center prepared an amicus brief on behalf of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota which discussed the meaning of the state’s education article. The brief argued that the state must provide an education that allows all South Dakota children, including disadvantaged students, the opportunity to receive an adequate education, and that the state’s funding system should be based on the actual cost of meeting the constitutional mandate.
South Dakota currently has no state funded pre-K program. However, there is a small number of children receiving services through the federal Head Start program.
The state legislature created the Child Care and Early Learning Opportunities Task Force in 2004 and directed it to report back with recommendations regarding childcare and early childhood education. In January 2005, the task force issued its report, which recommended development of a universal preschool system with priority for public funds directed to families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty guideline.