Two State Supreme Courts Act on Funding Equity: WA Gets it Right; MI Misses
I read two posts this morning on funding decisions by state Supreme Courts: one from the Tacoma News Tribune explaining the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision to continue levying a $100,000 dollar per day fine against the legislature until it passes legislation that provides equitable funding for students; and one from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency praising the Michigan Supreme Court determination that the $2,500,000 the legislature passed to help meet state mandates could go to religiously affiliated private schools, which comprise 76% of the private schools in the state.
From 3000 miles away it seems that the Washington State Supreme Court rendered the right decision in an appeal from the plaintiffs in the case who “…asked the court to either pledge to shut down the state’s school system next fall or invalidate all tax breaks in the state budget next year should lawmakers not fix the salary issue and other remaining parts of (their) ruling by then.” Instead of taking that forceful action, which would arguably be just, the Court decided to keep fining the legislature $100,000 per day until it passes legislation that meets the Court’s standard for equity. Given the foot dragging I’ve witnessed in other states where legislatures effectively ignore equity decisions with no penalties imposed whatsoever, the courts decisions seems eminently reasonable.
The Michigan Supreme Court, though, seems to have lost its way in deciding that non-public schools can receive a portion of the $2.5 million it raised to meet mandates they passed, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency is missing what I believe is a crucial flaw in this ruling: it will apply to for-profit private schools as well as religiously affiliated schools and could result in state funds being diverted to religious schools that indoctrinate children in a fundamentalist perspective as opposed to an inclusive one. It was that point and their relatively recent experiences with governments in Europe that led the Founders to erect a wall between the church and the state, and whenever that wall is eroded it creates the possibility for government funds to be used to impose religious beliefs on children. Parents who choose to enroll their children in such a school should be welcome to do so, but at their own expense or at the expense of their church. As for state funds being directed to for-profit institutions, such a diversion amounts to taxpayers subsidizing shareholders… and there is already enough of that going on in government spending. Governors and legislators should do everything possible to make certain the practice of privatizing public services stops at the schoolhouse door.