A district court judge in Iowa recently dismissed a case brought by former and current students of the Davenport Community School District who alleged that the state’s funding formula creates inequities in school funding across the state. Woods et al. v. State. In Iowa, the state sets a funding level for all school districts — $6,591 per pupil in fiscal year 2017 — but districts that were spending more per student when the formula was created still are authorized to spend at those higher levels. Plaintiffs argue that many neighboring districts spend $175 per pupil more than Davenport is permitted to spend, and if their student expenditures were at this higher level, the district would have expended $863,000 more last year. They also note that 171 other districts would receive similar increases if they were all brought up to the expenditure level of the highest spending districts.
The Court dismissed the equal protection claim, finding that the state had a rational aim of promoting equity, providing property tax relief and controlling costs by adopting this formula. It found that at the time the current formula was adopted in the 1970s, the disparity between the highest and lowest spending districts in the state was 25%, and today that disparity is 2.65%.
Plaintiffs’ adequacy claim was rejected both because the complaint did not allege that “the amount is inadequate to provide an education to its students,” and because “whether there is a fundamental right to education remains an open question in Iowa,” citing King v. State, 818 NW 2d1, 26 (2012). Plaintiffs are expected to appeal this ruling to the state supreme court.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Education has filed an ethics complaint against Davenport Superintendent Arthur Tate. Tate, with the support of the school board, had dipped into the district’s reserve funds to provide extra funding, mainly to aid the “at risk” students in the district — 67% of whom meet federal poverty standards — despite state law forbidding doing so.