Lawsuits? In the past couple of weeks, I've heard more and more from various (and unrelated quarters) that it may be time to consider a lawsuit against the State of Minnesota on the grounds that it is not meeting its constitutional duty to provide a "general and uniform, thorough and efficient" system of public education. Clearly, we've been on a funding yo-yo for the past decade, with four of the ten years witnessing frozen education funding formulas. Even in the years when we've seen an increase, the level of increases has not been enough to prevent program cuts or stem the continuing growth in the subsidization of special education expenses from school district general funds.
In another wrinkle, Minnesota's education funding system is also getting more inequitable. From documents we have put together, the gap between districts at the 5th and 95th percentile, in both raw dollar and percentage terms, have been steadily climbing (with a slight dip mid-decade) since 2001.
We all realize that lawsuits are quite an undertaking and it is instructive to look at what is currently happening in other states in the area of school funding litigation. One especially interesting case study is that of Colorado. In 2005, a group called Children's Voices sued the state of Colorado on behalf of 14 school districts. Both the district court and the Colorado state court of appeals ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue the state. In October, 2009, the Colorado State Supreme Court on a razor-thin 4-3 vote ruled that the plaintiffs do have standing and that the lawsuit will now be returned to district court to be heard.
Florida is another state that recently has seen the emergence of a lawsuit. Fund Education Now and Citizens for Strong Schools have joined several sets of parents in filing suit against the State of Florida in mid-November. This is on top of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union two weeks earlier. Florida currently ranks 50th out of 50 states in several education funding categories and a number of the states' districts have alarmingly high drop-out rates.
Needless to say, if Minnesota school districts decide to head down the litigation trail, there will be ample action in other states to both map strategy and judge prospects for success.
Children's Voices: http://http://www.childrens-voices.org/default.asp?PAGE=35
Great Education Colorado: http://http://www.greateducation.org/
Fund Education Now: http://http://www.fundeducationnow.org/weekly-alerts/what-is-the-power-of-the-florida-constitution/
Citizens for Strong Schools: http://http://www.yesforalachuaschools.org/