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West Virginia Circuit Court Finds Revised School Funding System Constitutional

On January 3, 2002 a West Virginia Circuit Court judge dismissed the long-standing Pauley v. Kelly case (now known as Tomblin v. State Board of Education), which claimed the state education finance system violated the education article of the state constitution. Based on hearings held in November 2002, the trial court denied plaintiffs' only remaining motion, which sought an order to change two specific provisions of the state's funding calculations. In this decision (MS Word Document), the court declared the education finance, accountability, and monitoring system enacted in 1998 constitutional and ended its jurisdiction.

Originally filed as an equity suit by parents in a low-wealth West Virginia county in 1975, the lawsuit led to the 1979 decision, Pauley v. Kelly, 255 S.E.2d 859, by the Supreme Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, in which the court held that education was a fundamental right and remanded the case for trial.

In 1982, the trial court found the school finance system unconstitutional and developed a detailed plan for reform. The legislature responded by altering the funding formula, defining school standards, and enacting accountability measures.

Plaintiffs returned to court in 1995, alleging that the state had ignored most of the 1982 court-ordered plan, and, in 1996, the trial court agreed. The court held that the state still did not provide a "thorough and efficient" system of education, as required by the state constitution, and in 1998, the legislature revised the system more substantially than it did in the 1980s. Under a court-ordered agreement, Tomblin v. Gainer (2000) (PDF Document), the State Board of Education must evaluate and report on individual schools' specific needs, including personnel, curriculum and facilities, and request additional resources, if needed.

Plaintiffs have not yet indicated whether they plan to appeal the latest ruling.

Prepared January 9, 2003