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In 1975, the Idaho Supreme Court, in Thompson v.
Engelking, 537 P.2d 635, rejected a claim that the
state school finance system violated equal protection
principles under state and federal law. Nearly two decades
later, however, the same court distinguished its prior
ruling, in Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity
v. Evans (ISEEO), 850 P.2d 724 (1993), and found
that an "adequacy" claim under the state constitution's
education clause should go forward to trial.
In 1994, the trial court declared the suit moot because
the legislature had changed the funding formula and
redefined a "thorough education." On appeal,
the state supreme court reversed the decision, concluding
that an unresolved question remained as to whether a
"thorough education" was being provided to
In 1997, the trial court again dismissed plaintiffs'
claim, but the state supreme court, in ISEEO v. State,
976 P.2d 913 (1998), reversed, in part, and remanded
the facilities and capital funding portion of the case.
The court held that "the Legislature has the duty
to provide a means for school districts to fund facilities
that offer a safe environment conducive to learning."
In 2000 and 2001, the legislature passed minor facilities
measures that help property-poor districts, but insufficiently,
according to plaintiffs.
In the midst of a series of hearings in late 2002,
the trial court appointed a special
master to assess all of the "run-down"
schools in the state, the first facilities assessment
since 1992-1993. The state appealed the
appointment, which prevents the special master from
proceeding until the appeal is decided.
In 2003, the legislature enacted a statute intended
to eliminate the ISEEO case and prevent any future cases
of this type. In October 2003, the lower court ruled
that the new law is unconstitutional, and the state
appealed that ruling.
On December 21, 2005, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed
the district court's conclusion that “the current
[school] funding system is simply not sufficient to
carry out the Legislature's duty under the constitution,”
Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity (ISEEO) v.
State (ISEEO V). The court based its opinion
on what it described as “the overwhelming evidence
in the record documenting serious facility and funding
problems in the state's public education system,”
including the state's own school facilities needs assessments.
The “evidence not only supports, but compels the
district court's conclusion,” the court found.
The court did not set a deadline but “will retain
jurisdiction to consider future legislative efforts
to comply with the constitutional mandate. . . .”
Although the court stated that the remedy “must
be fashioned by the Legislature and not this Court,”
it provided several examples of remedies adopted by
other states to “demonstrate that there are options
available to assist school districts. . . .” “We
leave the policy decisions to [the Legislature],”
the court said, “subject to our continuing responsibility
to ensure Idaho's constitutional provisions are satisfied.”
The lone dissent in this 4-1 decision recommended that
the supreme court appoint a special master or masters
to analyze the situation in more detail so the court
“could tailor an order that sets a precise roadmap
with identified tasks and deadlines.” The dissent
pointed to the Arkansas Supreme Court's recent use of
masters in that state's school funding case.
As reported in The Idaho Statesman, legislators,
including House Speaker Bruce Newcomb and Senate Education
Committee Chair John Goedde, reacted positively to the
decision and seemed optimistic about enacting a remedy.
Plaintiffs' attorney Robert Huntley said that he thinks
“the Legislature should pay for 30 percent of
school bonds passed by voters and half the tab for maintaining
school buildings,” according to The Idaho
Statesman. That would amount to about $33 million
to $38 million per year.
In November 2006, Idaho voters rejected Proposition
1, a ballot initiative that called for a $200 million
increase in education spending. According to The
Idaho Statesman, the initiative, which was promoted
by the Idaho Education Association, failed by a margin
of 54% to 45%. Proponents of Proposition 1 initially
called for a one-cent increase in the state sales tax
to fund the increase, but the legislature enacted such
a measure just months before the election. The additional
funding sought under Proposition 1 would have been devoted
to such things as class size reduction, school maintenance,
staff salaries, and classroom supplies, according to
The Idaho Statesman.
In June, 2007, Idaho public schools sued the State
Supreme Court in federal court to demand that the state
court order a remedy in the case the districts won two
Judge Bail's orders are available on the Fourth
Judicial District's website.
For information regarding other states with facilities/capital
funding cases, see Alaska,
Louisiana, and New
Last updated: May, 2008