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Legal Updates


Plaintiffs’ motion for supplemental relief was denied by a Montana District Court judge on December 15, 2008. Although agreeing with the plaintiffs that a) education funding increases would drop below the rate of inflation for 2009, b) special education funding issues need to be addressed and c) there are continuing problems with teacher recruitment and retention in some districts, the court found that the state had “done a good job” of addressing many of the other problems discussed in the court’s earlier opinion. Given the state’s efforts, the court choose not to issue an order for supplementary relief, “ at this time,” but to discuss the outstanding issues in an ‘advisory opinion.”

New Hampshire

On October 15, 2008, the New Hampshire Supreme Court dismissed Londonderry Sch. Dist. v. State, 958 A. 2d 930 (N.H. 2008). The court terminated its jurisdiction on the grounds that the case was now moot since the particular statute that the plaintiffs had attacked in their 2005 complaint had now been replaced. Plaintiffs maintained that the revised funding system is still unconstitutional, but the court held that they would need to file a new action to litigate these issues.

Early in this 15 year old litigation, the New Hampshire Supreme Court had held that in order to satisfy constitutional requirements, the state needed to 1) define a constitutionally adequate education, 2) determine the cost of an adequate education; and 3) develop a system of accountability to ensure the delivery of a constitutionally adequate public education. Claremont Sch. Dist v. Governor, 703 A.2d 1353 ( NH, 1997). In light of the passage of NH RSA ch. 193-E, which essentially incorporated the constitutional guidelines for an adequate education which had originally been adopted by the Kentucky Supreme Court in Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc. 790 S.W. 2d 186 (KY 1989), the plaintiffs are no longer challenging the legislature on the definitional issue, but they continue to maintain that the new funding system that the legislature adopted is inadequate and that merely creating a Joint Legislative oversight Committee does not satisfy the accountability requirement.

New Jersey

On November 18, 2008, the state Supreme Court rejected the governor’s request to summarily dismiss the long-running Abbott vs. Burke school funding case. The court ordered a series of hearings in which the governor will have to demonstrate that the new funding formula for distributing $7.8 billion in state school aid satisfies the constitutional rights of students in the Abbott districts.

The extensive Abbott remedial orders, in effect since 1999, apply to students in 32 poor urban school districts. Governor Jon Corzine’s attorneys argued to the Court that the new formula maintains present levels of funding for the Abbott districts, but also provides substantial increases for high needs students who live in other districts that are not covered by the decree and whose numbers have risen substantially in the past 18 years. The Abbott plaintiffs, while not discouraging additional funding for other needy students, argue that the new formula is based on abstract models rather than actual student needs and that under the new formula, funding levels to many of the Abbott districts will decline in future years, undoing much of the positive impact that the remedial orders have had.