School Funding Court Decisions Continue to Have Political Ripple Effect
In several states where the fight over K-12 funding moved from legislature to courtroom—and, in some cases, back again—the drama continues. Here's a summary of three such battlegrounds and the implications for the amount of money districts have to spend in future years.
The state's supreme court ruled recently that it's not the legislature's obligation to fully fund that state's funding formula, enshrined in state law. Moody's credit rating agency, in response, warned that the ruling will significantly hurt school districts in the long run because, they said, it's less likely that the legislature will significantly increase districts' funding anytime soon.
The funding formula was created by Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove a decade ago and was based on the amount of money necessary for a district to receive a C on the state's report card. (Musgrove subsequently filed a lawsuit on behalf of 21 districts in the state stating that the legislature is obligated to fully fund the formula).
But the state's legislature has repeatedly failed to fully fund the formula, increasing the state budget by only $400 million in the last six years, at least $1.9 billion short of the necessary amount. This year's budget provides the school districts $2.2 billion, $214 million less than what's required under the state formula, according to Moody.
The supreme court ruling last week removes the court from the budget-making process and gives the legislature next year free range in how it decides to upend the state's funding formula yet again, an effort that culminated in a study last year but no vote.
In oral arguments earlier last week, the state's supreme court justices sounded doubtful that a recent influx of money to shore up teacher salaries complies with their 2012 ruling that the state offset local education costs.
The state and the courts have been at odds for almost a decade now over the state's "paramount" constitutional duty to provide for an adequate education.
The state has, since the 2012 McCleary v. Washington ruling, poured billions more into its districts' coffers but, up until this year, had not been politically able to figure out a way to pay for a boost in pay for its new teachers. The new tax the state levied on homeowners doesn't kick in until 2019, leading justices to ask the state's lawyers at a hearing on Tuesday how this complies with their 2018 deadline.
"What has been brought is something that says, 'Well, we're not going to do it at all, we'll do some, and we'll do more later,' after the timeframe," said Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst.
A ruling against the state could result in fines, another contentious legislative session, or the court shutting down its school system, as former state Superintendent Randy Dorn has suggested it do.
Connecticut's legislature this week, passed a budget for this school year, months after its deadline. The budget provides the schools $2 billion in the 2017-18 fiscal year and will result in most of the state's property-poor districts receiving the same amount of money they received last year, according to the Connecticut Post. The rest of the state's districts will have around 5 percent cut from their budget.
Malloy has not yet signed the budget.
The Republican-controlled legislature had battled with the Democratic governor over how much money to give the schools amid a $3.5 billion deficit. Malloy said at the beginning of this year's legislative session that he wants to preempt a pending supreme court ruling on whether the state's funding formula is constitutional.
But the five-month standoff led the state's teachers union to file a lawsuit to block an executive order that would result in cuts to some districts.
The supreme court began hearing the Connecticut Coalition for Justice v. Rell case last month and is expected to rule within the next year.