Friday, February 23, 2007

Big News on the School Funding Front

Did I mention it was bad news?

What follows are two articles on Judge Thomas Wingate's ruling in Franklin County Circuit Court...


Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
February 14, 2007
Author: Raviya H. Ismail and Art JesterHerald-Leader Education Writers

A Franklin Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that a group of school superintendents had failed to prove that the General Assembly violated the state Constitution by inadequately funding the state's public schools.

In the state's most important school finance case since the reform of Kentucky's public schools in 1990, Judge Thomas D. Wingate issued a summary judgment in favor of the legislature and said the issue of adequate funding should be resolved by lawmakers, not the courts. "Ultimately, increases in education funding must be the product of political will, not judicial decree," Wingate said in a 22-page opinion.Wingate said the plaintiffs, The Council for Better Education, had not provided "objective evidence of shortcomings in Kentucky's education system." Because the plaintiffs had not established that there was a clear constitutional violation, the court should not dictate how the legislature should appropriate money for the public schools, Wingate said."This court will leave the legislating to the legislature and hope that the citizens of Kentucky fortify it with the will to strengthen education for future generations of Kentuckians," he said.

The Council for Better Education had built its case on the historic ruling in the Rose case of 1989, which paved the way for the sweeping Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. In the Rose case, Kentucky's Supreme Court, led by then-Chief Justice Robert Stephens, concluded that the legislature's support of the public schools was inadequate and therefore unconstitutional.In the recent lawsuit, the plaintiffs, a group of superintendents, claimed that funding of Kentucky's schools is "inadequate and arbitrarily determined by the legislature." The plaintiffs based their claim on the Rose decision, where the Kentucky Supreme Court eventually ruled that "the General Assembly shall provide funding which is sufficient to provide each child in Kentucky an adequate education."

There are 164 school districts of a total 175 that belong to the Council for Better Education. The suit claimed Kentucky schools were underfunded from between $1.08 billion to $1.2 billion in the 2003-2004 school year, and underfunded in other years.

The legislature's two top leaders -- Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green -- were named defendants in the suit."It vindicates our position that we have made an attempt to adequately fund education," said Richards. " Do I think it's funded well enough? No, I do not."

The defendants refuted the allegations and argued that the state's Constitution "prohibits the judiciary from dictating to the legislature what levels of funding are appropriate and what process to use to determine how much funding education requires."In the ruling, Wingate found that the Council for Better Education had no evidence "relating to the actual nature of school system inadequacy or poor student performance."

The ruling concluded that the General Assembly "has created a system of common schools with tremendously enhanced results" and "KERA has produced dramatic progress toward excellence in public education."

"The determination of adequacy must be based on objective outputs, such as the CATS testing scores and our performance relative to neighboring states," the ruling continued.

Marion County Schools Superintendent Roger L. Marcum, president of the Council for Better Education, said the ruling was disappointing and far from the outcome the group expected. The group wouldn't say whether they planned to appeal the decision."Kentucky has made a lot of progress in improving student achievement," he said. "We are ignoring the fact that a lot of that progress has been made from students that are least at risk. You're going to see that there are many subpopulations that we are not reaching and they are not moving forward toward proficiency. You can see that in a number of schools in the state, in a number of districts."

What surprised Bob Sexton most was the language of the ruling."Many of the legislative leaders are regularly claiming that (KERA) is a failure," said Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. "I'm surprised by some of the language (in the ruling) that essentially says the schools are doing so well. I just find this whole thing to be inconsistent to what I'm hearing from legislators."

Edition: FinalSection: Main NewsPage: A1
Copyright (c) 2007 Lexington Herald-Leader
Record Number: 0702140002

And this...

Courier-Journal, The (Louisville, KY)
February 14, 2007
Author: Nancy C. Rodriguez

State's neediest students ill-served, coalition says

A coalition of Kentucky school districts lost its legal bid yesterday to force state lawmakers to spend more money on public schools.But educators in the failed lawsuit said that their fight is not over and that without additional funding, they will never be able to serve some of Kentucky's neediest students.

The Council for Better Education filed suit in 2003, accusing the legislature of inadequately funding public schools. It asked the court to order lawmakers to direct hundred of millions more dollars into Kentucky classrooms.The state spends about $4.1 billion a year on education.

Marion County Superintendent Roger Marcum, the council's president, called the ruling "disappointing" and said the council might ask Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate to reconsider his opinion or appeal to a higher court."I can assure you this is not the end of the line for us," Marcum said.

In 1985, the council filed a similar lawsuit that resulted in the state's school-funding system being declared unconstitutional and paved the way for sweeping education reform in 1990.But unlike that case, which focused on funding inequities, the latest lawsuit focused on whether districts were receiving adequate funding to teach every student the skills and knowledge necessary to meet Kentucky's education standards.

Wingate ruled that funding for Kentucky's schools wasn't "so inadequate that it amounts to a violation ... of the constitution."He said it's not the court's role to tell the legislature the specific method to use to determine if schools are being adequately funded.And he said the legislature's method of using rising test scores as proof that schools are being adequately funded is constitutional.

Method questioned

Wingate said, however, that it was "puzzling" why the legislature has not developed a different method of determining whether eSchools Lose Suit to Boost Funding

ducation is adequately funded."We do not know why, despite over a decade of requests from interested citizen groups and the Office of Educational Accountability, the General Assembly has yet to commission a study of its own to determine whether its funding levels for education are adequate," Wingate wrote. "... Perhaps it is afraid of the results that study will produce."

Marcum said, "We feel the issue about adequate funding is still something that needs to be addressed. " He added that without additional funding it will be "difficult, if not impossible" for schools to meet ambitious student achievement goals by the state's 2014 deadline.

Marcum said it is unfortunate that schools are being "penalized" for making gains and argued that while progress has been made, the state's neediest students are still in dire need of additional services."The students that are most at risk are the ones we still have not reached," he said, noting test scores that show low performance among low-income, minority and special-education students. "The reform was about proficiency for all."

Legislative reaction

But Mark Overstreet, the attorney representing Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Jody Richards, said the ruling was "a well-reasoned decision.""And it recognizes the hard work that the General Assembly has done over the 16 years since" the state passed education reform.

Richards, who recently announced he is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said last night that he agreed with the ruling."We have made some great progress since the reform act was enacted," Richards said. "I don't think we've done well enough. It certainly is my goal and my intent to fund education better in the future. "

Richards said that cost increases for the Medicaid program and state prison system hampered the legislature's ability to fund public schools since the education reform act was passed.Asked why the legislature did not raise taxes to raise money for schools in that period, Richards said: "The citizens generally don't want taxes raised."

Marcum acknowledged the legislature's efforts last year to increase school funding, saying it was "better than it has been in some time ." But most of those increases went toward salaries, health insurance and retirements costs, he said."It does not provide additional resources for kids," he said.

Edition: KYSection: NewsPage: 1A
Dateline: Kentucky
Copyright (c) The Courier-Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: lou39775540

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