Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Officials: School funding suit over

Superintendents won't appeal
As previously reported, the Council for Better Education - a coalition of 164 (of 175) school districts in Kentucky - has decided not to appeal a ruling by Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate. This brings to an end the conjoined school funding cases CBE v Williams and Young v Williams.
Council President Roger Marcum said, however, that the group "will continue to lead efforts for adequate resources" for all Kentucky students.

"Our members continue to believe that Kentucky's academic progress is too slow," said Marcum, who added that the lawsuit kept "the issue on the front burner."
...Marcum -- superintendent of the Marion County school system -- left open the possibility of a future lawsuit...
The case was a followup to the Kentucky Supreme Court's landmark decision in Rose v Council for Better Education, in 1989, which has since been used nationally as precedent in more than three hundred cases. In Rose, inequities and inadequacies in the system prompted the court to declare the entire system of schools to be unconstitutional. That resulted in a re-working of Kentucky's school laws under the name, Kentucky Education Reform Act, or HB 940, which was signed by Governor Wilkinson in 1990.
But the Kentucky constitution contains particularly strong separation of powers language and the courts are reticent to direct the legislature to do anything in particular. This seems to be where Young v. Williams ran into trouble. When the Council asked the court to direct the legislature to use a “specific, systematic method to quantify the amount of money necessary to provide an adequate system of common schools,” Judge Wingate said they went over the line and he responded with a summary judgment for the defense.
After Wingate's ruling, the council filed a motion asking him to reconsider. He denied the motion May 30.
...He said it was not the court's role to dictate to the legislature a specific method for determining whether the 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.
As KSBA reported, the Council decided against an appeal since the best result would only continue the lawsuit.
“If we appeal, the result will not be for the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court to say, ‘You win, you get more money.’ It would only be to rule in whether to have a trial,” attorney Byron Leet of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs said. “A successful appeal would take at least two years to get back to Franklin Circuit Court through the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.”
Leet and Marcum pointed to a bright side to Wingate’s ruling. “Judge Wingate said there is a genuine question about whether the legislature is meeting its constitutional obligation, and that’s a decision for a court to make,” Leet said. “He rejected the defendants’ argument that they were immune from being sued and left the door open for the council or someone else to come back to the court in the future.
Indeed, in the Rose case, the court ruled the system unconstitutional, but stopped short of telling the legislature how to fix it.
Wingate’s rejection of the Council’s legal theory in Young was, consistent with Rose, a stark refusal to step “onto the slippery slope by stipulating the manner by which the General Assembly must carry out its responsibilities.”
It now appears the only viable option for the Council for Better Education is to monitor the legislature to see if they will - despite a long history to the contrary - provide a level of support for the schools that will allow Kentuckly students to achieve the state's goals. Failing that, CBE may need to file a new case, with a new legal strategy.
In the meantime - despite widespread acknowledgement that the present system is underfunded by hundreds of million dollars - Wingate’s ruling will only reinforce the legislature’s natural tendency maintain the status quo.
What NOBODY wants to talk about is the legislature's other option. The General Assembly is empowered by the constitution to maintain present funding levels and simply lower the state's goals. If that were to occur, it would produce a crippling workforce circumstance that would harm the state for decades to come.
This from the Courier-Journal.

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