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Education Reporter

School Funding Litigation
Courts Demand More Money As
Lawmakers Resist Raising Taxes
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State courts are playing a game of chicken with legislatures around the country in an effort to force lawmakers to spend more money on schools.

The Kansas supreme court boldly threatened to order all schools in the state closed this fall if the legislature failed to come up with $143 million for the next school year. Twelve days into a July special session, the legislature capitulated under pressure from the Democratic governor. The court further warned that it might order an additional $568 million for the 2006-07 school year, which would result in a 35% increase.

The Kansas courts relied on a 2001 study that estimated Kansas was $800 million short of providing a "suitable" education guaranteed by the state constitution. Conservative attempts to amend the state constitution to block judicial spending decisions failed. Kansas already spends nearly $10,000 per student on education.

Showdowns are occurring around the country between state courts with expansive readings of constitutional provisions and legislators loath to raise taxes. Lawmakers in Montana, New York and Texas are still deliberating on how to respond to court orders to increase school spending, and some officials openly question the power of courts to order more spending. Some court-imposed deadlines have passed without legislative action.

In the last two years, plaintiffs have won almost every major school finance case, losing only in Massachusetts. (See Education Reporter, Jan., Feb. and Apr. 2005.) Some 45 out of 50 states have been told to change their tax and spending formulas to comply with court orders in school funding cases in recent decades.

Missouri legislators voted in May to overhaul the state's school funding system in response to a legal challenge brought by more than half the school districts in the state. The new law sets a minimum funding level of $6,117 per pupil, with additional funds available to districts enrolling disproportionate percentages of students who are disadvantaged, disabled or non-English-speaking.

However, it is unknown where the $113 million in additional state aid for next year will come from, and the school district plaintiffs have announced plans to continue pursuing their case.

Missouri Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields said he plans to pursue a proposed constitutional amendment next year that would bar courts from getting involved in school funding matters. (Missouri Lawyers Weekly, 6-13-05)

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