State Courts Rule Funding Formulas are Deficient… But… Nothing Changes
Two newspaper articles, one in the New York Times and another in the Valley News in Lebanon, NH, tout recent court rulings that flag inequities in funding… but each ruling has inherent problems and neither is likely to result in changes any time soon.
In the NYTimes article Elizabeth Harris reports that Connecticut Judge Thomas Moukawsher of State Superior Court in Hartford said that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to give all children an adequate education. His lengthy decision was rendered in response to a suit filed in 2005— over ten years ago— and includes directives to comprehensively review and overhaul the entire Connecticut education system. His sweeping decision effectively acknowledges that while funding equity is clearly required, improvements in the quality of teaching and increased accountability are equally important. After citing the gross inequities in Connecticut school districts, he calls for “…the attorney general’s office to submit plans within 180 days to fix the areas he had found deficient.” As Ms. Harris notes, “It was not immediately clear who might draw up the proposals or whether the state would appeal the decision.”
Here’s my take on what will happen in Connecticut: 180 days will pass and no plans will be developed and before the 180 days is up the decision will be appealed. Another possibility is that Governor Malloy, a neoliberal “reformer”, will use this as a path for him to introduce privatized deregulated schools into the 30 drastically underfunded districts. Either way, after 180 days pass another school year will be lost making it exactly 12 years between the filing of the lawsuit and any change in the ways schools are funded in Connecticut: exactly the time it takes for a student to progress through school. The bottom line: another generation of children raised in poverty will be lost.
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire Valley News reporter Tim Camerato reported that a Judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs from several districts who claimed that the state shortchanged them in the funding of their schools. He writes:
As part of New Hampshire’s constitutional obligation to provide every child with an adequate education, the state funds are based on a formula that considers a district’s student enrollment, the number of children using free and reduced lunch programs, those in English as a second language classes and special education programs, said Caitlin Davis, an internal auditor at the state Department of Education.
Since 2009, each district’s adequacy aid also has been subject to a cap based on a percentage of what the district received in previous years.
Since 2012, the cap on the city of Dover, N.H., short-changed the Seacoast community by more than $7 million and left other communities without $79 million in necessary funding, according to the city’s lawsuit against the state.
In its lawsuit, Dover argued the cap violated the New Hampshire constitution, which previous court rulings have determined calls for state funding of education. Dover also wanted the state to repay all of the money lost to each affected community.
Judge Brian Tucker ruled in the city’s favor on the first argument, but said school districts only are able to collect on the 2016 fiscal year because the money needed to reimburse school districts for previous fiscal years hasn’t been raised.
Having worked in New Hampshire in the 1980s and again in the 2000s I am painfully aware of the New Hampshire legislatures reluctance to meet court mandates. The original lawsuits regarding funding inequities were filed in the 1980s and when they were inadequately addressed another set of suits were filed in the early 2000s. The adequacy aid referenced in Mr. Camerato’s article was the latest effort to address inequity and it, too, has fallen short of the mark because it was insufficiently funded. Will this suit solve the problem? Probably not:
The affected Upper Valley school districts celebrated the decision, but were cautious of a possible appeal.
As intervenors in the case, House Speaker Shawn Jasper and Senate President Chuck Morse, both Republicans, can pursue further court action.
“Thinking that this ruling may be appealed, it could be a while before we know if this (reimbursement) will actually happen or not for Grantham,” Superintendent Jacqueline Guillette said in an email on Wednesday. “In the meantime, we will be working with our attorney to review the judge’s ruling and to explore all options that the (School Board) will have should Grantham receive this money.”
Like the children raised in poverty in Connecticut, New Hampshire’s poor children will need to wait a little bit longer to see if something can be worked out…. Sadly, children raised in poverty in over 40 other states will also be waiting….