Public school funding issue is hot button across US

An education advocacy group in New York filed a lawsuit claiming the state is nearly $4 billion short of satisfying its school spending obligation under a court ruling made in 2006. The Kansas Supreme Court is set to rule on the lawsuit filed by parents and school districts stating that cuts in school spending violate the state's constitution that promises "suitable" funding for public education. Eleven states across the country have similar legislation pending.

 "The states have promulgated content standards, assessment systems—they've promulgated lots of accountability," said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which advocates on behalf of students in New Jersey and is viewed nationally as a leader in school funding lawsuits. "But what the states haven't done is determine the cost of delivering standards-based education to all kids."

Many states are holding schools and teachers accountable for their students being ready for college and careers upon high school graduation. Sciarra and others say that the states need to figure out how much more it will cost to educate children to these higher academic standards.

Extra money could be used to shrink class sizes, offer preschool for low-income students, and expand instruction for special needs students or with disabilities or learning English. Some lawsuits specifically state that states are not spending enough to educate special needs students who have to meet the more rigorous standards alongside their classmates.

Eric Hanushek, an Education expert at Stanford's Hoover Institution, says the focus should not be on how much money the states spend, but how they spend it. He found in his research on teacher evaluations that there is "considerable evidence that suggests that there's no clear relationship between what's spent on schools and student performance." He says that teacher salaries and class size affect school spending and neither is related to student achievement, instead, school districts "should focus on improving teacher quality"

One thing that is common among the current epidemic of education funding lawsuits is that states are failing to comply with court rulings.

Molly Hunter, director of Education Justice, says that these rulings need "eternal vigilance" and that "It's not like a broken arm where we just fix it. It's something that needs attention time and time again, and where legislatures sometimes do some backsliding."

Some states have argued they do not have the funds; this is particularly true during a recession. However, Michael Rebell, a professor at Columbia University who recently filed a lawsuit in New York, says that the court has ruled that "fiscal constraints by the state are not an acceptable excuse" when constitutional rights are at stake.

Some of the lawsuits in question are filed in California, Kansas, New York, and Texas.

02 4, 2014
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