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Legal Updates

Missouri Supreme Court Denies Adequacy Claim

Although the State Board of Education had indicated that an additional $905 million were necessary to fund Missouri’s schools adequately, the Missouri Supreme Court last Tuesday denied the plaintiffs’ claim that the states school funding formula is unconstitutionally disparate and inadequate. The plaintiffs in Committee for Educational Equality v. State of Missouri included more than half of the school districts in the state.

In ruling against them, the Court relied on a unique clause in the state constitution, Art IX, § 3(b), which provides that “no less than [25] percent of the state revenue… shall be applied annually to the support of the free public schools” This specific minimum level of funding defines “adequacy,” the Court held, and plaintiffs’ attempt to read an additional adequacy requirement into the general constitutional requirement that the state “establish and maintain free public schools” because a “general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence [is] essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people” Mo. Const, Art IX, § 1(a), was rejected. The Court also denied the claim of plaintiff-intervenors that the statutory mechanism currently being used for tax assessment calculations violated a constitutional requirement to equalize property tax assessments.

Leandro Judge Calls Hearing on Recession's Impact on Adequacy

The trial judge presiding over the implementation of Hoke County Board of Education v. North Carolina (“Leandro”) is convening in October a “non-adversarial” hearing to assess the impact of the economic downturn on guaranteeing adequate education for North Carolina students. Judge Howard Manning has called on the state to report on the budget’s impact on education initiatives required by Leandro, including low wealth funding, programs for at-risk students, early childhood education and efforts to supply all schools with “competent certified” principals and teachers. He has also requested information on federal stimulus spending on Leandro requirements and its effects. The state’s budget for this year requires districts to collectively trim expenses by $225 million. Many districts have already been forced to cut teaching staff and spending on materials in grades 4-12.

In Leandro, the North Carolina Supreme Court concluded that every child has the right to a “sound basic education” resulting in competency in core subject areas like reading and math, the ability to think critically “with regard to issues that affect…the student’s community, state and nation,” the skills necessary to undertake training or higher education after high school and compete in the job market.

School Funding Case begins in Washington

Three decades after the Supreme Court of Washington ruled that the state constitution required the legislature to provide students with a “basic education” sufficient to “equip…children for their role as citizens and as potential competitors in today’s market as well as in the marketplace of ideas,” advocates for fiscal equity are back in court. In a trial that began Monday before the King County Superior Court, attorneys for the Network for Excellence Washington Schools (NEWS)—a coalition of parents, the state’s largest teachers’ union and 30 school districts—will argue that the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to fully fund schools.

Washington ranks 42nd in per-pupil spending and, according to the plaintiffs in McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington, the state’s contributions to district budgets have failed to keep up with increasing expenses. Attorneys for the state argue that the 2009 legislation which would increase funding by $1 billion per year by 2018 renders the case moot. The trial is expected to last 6 weeks.

Attorneys for both parties have said that the economic downturn will not factor into the case even though the state Supreme Court directly addressed the issue of funding stability 30 years ago when it held that an adequate education required “dependable and regular tax sources.”