Friday, September 4, 2009

Missouri Supreme Court upholds school funding formula AP

JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri's school-funding formula was upheld Tuesday
by the state Supreme Court against a long-running challenge that
claimed schools have been shortchanged and treated unfairly.

The high court's decision affirms a 2007 ruling by a Cole County judge
in a case brought by fewer than half of Missouri's 523 public school
districts. The schools that sued claimed the state fails to spend
enough money on schools and distributes that money inequitably, at
least partly because of a flawed local property-tax system.

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that education is not a fundamental
right under either the federal or state constitution's
equal-protection clauses. Thus, "there is no constitutional basis for
implying an equal per-pupil spending requirement," the court said.

During arguments in May, an attorney for a school coalition called the
Committee for Educational Equality had said the claims of inadequate
funding hinged on a vague constitutional provision.

That constitutional section states: "A general diffusion of knowledge
and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and
liberties of the people, the general assembly shall establish and
maintain free public schools" for people up to age 21.

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that the phrase "diffusion of
knowledge" is merely an introductory clause that "is purely
aspirational in nature" and does not add to a separate constitutional
requirement that 25 percent of state revenues go to public schools.
The state has met that threshold, the court said.

School districts originally sued the state in January 2004. The next
year, Missouri lawmakers changed the school-funding formula so it is
linked less to local property values and taxes and more to a per-pupil
spending target. Although some schools dropped out of the lawsuit,
most pressed ahead with the lawsuit.

The legal battle cost more than $6 million, most of which was financed
by either the public school districts or the state.

Posted on Tue, Sep. 01, 2009 03:15 PM

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