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Thursday, April 9, 2009

School Funding Constitutional; Back to the Legislature!

Judge Lori Wilbur ruled our school funding system constitutional yesterday, rejecting the argument of some schools and parents that our state is not doing enough to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide a free and fair public education. (By the way, anyone have a link to the actual ruling? Does SDUJS post circuit rulings?)

I really didn't expect any other result from the court. A lawsuit has never struck me as the best way to handle funding the schools. As AG Larry Long told KELO, the court's job is "to determine whether or not the system is so structurally problematic that it fails to meet the constitutional standard." Judge Wilbur is saying there's nothing written in our laws that prevents the fulfillment of the constitutional mandate for good public education.

What does prevent fulfillment of that mandate is the regressive "no taxes no way!" mindset that views kids and education as an expense rather than an investment. It's not unconstitutional to be regressive (or Republican), but it is irresponsible. I guess we'll just have to fight that issue out in the Capitol and at the polls in 2010.


  1. Cory,
    you're missing the boat on this one. Think of the school funding lawsuit as a Bill of Rights type thing necessary to protect the rights (to a public education) of children against a missing democratic will to do so.
    On what planet can one win elections on a "let's raise taxes" platform? Your old "throw the bums out" solution therefor is a vote for the status quo.

  2. Why not look at exactly what the schools are spending money on, from the first penny on. How much for actual education? How much for administration? How much for sports, attendant costs of travel, coaches, referees, time lost from class etc? How much for building upkeep?

    Simply tossing more money on a situation solves nothing, although Obama seems to think it does. But that aside, more money does not equal better education.

    Do a complete audit of where every penny allocated to schools goes. Then go from there.

  3. Sorry, Carl -- I know the strategy has worked in other state courts... but it's kind of like in debate There are all sorts of strategies you can use to win: case arguments, disads, counterplans, critiques.... Critiques work, sometimes, with some judges, and if you've got no other hope, you do what you have to. But I still prefer straight-up case arguments.

    Ditto school funding. I know lots of legislators are stingy stick-in-the-muds who see your work as a liability, and changing their minds is hard. But I think our energy is still better spent in lobbying Pierre and voting Russ Olson out than trying to win a court case.

    Protecting the rights of children -- if a civil rights case can be made (analogous to protecting minorities from discrimination as in the Iowa ruling on same-sex marriage), that's the way to go... but I still have trouble seeing it. If its discrimination, how are the children being denied some fundamental right that adults have? Show me that, and I might sign on to the next lawsuit.

  4. OK then, I think a clear case can be made that our current funding system is discriminatory and unconstitutional because it has come to rely on locally imposed general fund opt outs to fund basic education programs.
    Brookings, for example has a $750,000 opt out in place to take care of what is constitutionally a responsibility of state government. What do we tell the child that just happens to live in some other community where voters simply are not willing to "approve" additional funds for an adequate education?
    State Officials from the Governors office and elsewhere have gone out on a limb (sort of) in support of laptop computers for students. Now the legislature has even cut off this limb of partial support for a program that Brookings board members have said is not affordable to them anyway.... oh what a tangled web we weave!

    The state aid formula would be adequate (and equitable) if properly funded to the point where large (efficient) school districts do not need opt outs.

  5. Large school systems may have just as high costs per student as some smaller schools. They just generate higher salaries for administrators.

    There are outliers on either end of the size and costs.

    Courts in SD can be sticklers for the sloppy permissiveness of the law and the constitution if it protects or benefits corporations and big business, but awfully concerned about interpreting the restrictive letter of the law if it only harms children or the unrich.


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