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Adequacy Lawsuits Planned in at Least Four States

Advocates in North Dakota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kentucky are in the process of preparing school funding adequacy lawsuits which they expect to file within the next six months.

In North Dakota and Missouri, groups of school districts have voted to bring lawsuits and have hired attorneys to prepare cases against their states. In both instances, the school districts point to inadequate and inequitable funding and claim that they are turning to the courts only after trying to get their Legislature to improve the state's education finance system.

The cases in Nebraska and Kentucky would follow other lawsuits filed earlier this year in those states. The new suit in Nebraska would be brought on behalf of rural schools and students, while the Nebraska Schools Trust, the Omaha Public Schools, and parents and school officials filed an adequacy suit this June, based on the need for funds to support higher standards, students learning English, and disadvantaged students.

In Kentucky, the new potential plaintiffs are led by the Council for Better Education, which brought the now-famous Rose v. Council for Better Education case decided in 1989. That decision led to major reform and improvement in Kentucky education and is often viewed as one of the pivotal cases in the history of education finance litigations nationwide. In January 2003, student and parent plaintiffs from south-central Kentucky filed suit against the state, alleging inadequate funding for a "proper education."

Attorneys preparing all four cases, and potential plaintiffs considering litigation elsewhere, explain that they are concerned about the lack of adequate funds to be able to education students to be capable citizens and to compete for employment in the global economy, including funds for programs needed to help "at-risk" children succeed.

In related news, costing-out studies have been performed in Kentucky and Nebraska, and a study is currently underway in North Dakota. Among other issues that are common across states, state revenue shortfalls have contributed to (1) a dilemma in which higher state and federal standards are undermined by spending cuts, and (2) an apparent shift in school funding that homeowners say has burdened them with high and rising local property taxes.

Prepared August 7, 2003