Saturday, June 9, 2007

Education Funding Lawsuits Nothing New

The following piece was presented by Jim Peschke at the hearing regarding CACR 18. As you will read adequate education lawsuits are nothing new.

The proposed constitutional amendment is a troublesome vehicle for addressing the court’s education funding mandate. I wish to make this case from three points of view: constitutional, historical, and practical.

In directing the legislature to pass specific laws, the court has overstepped the authority granted it by the New Hampshire Constitution and cast aside over 200 years of legal precedent establishing education as a local function. In effect, the court
has enacted its own amendment with consent from neither the people nor the legislature. Addressing this constitutional crisis with an amendment is inappropriate and sets a dangerous precedent.

Just how dangerous? I searched the web looking for other states recently sued for education funding. This was not difficult; forty seven states have been targeted by education funding lawsuits in recent years. In many cases, plaintiffs consisted of groups positioned to reap direct financial benefits from increased education spending.

A few examples. In 1988 Californians passed Proposition 98, a constitutional amendment sponsored by the California Teachers Association guaranteeing state funding of education for grades K-14(1). This amendment mandates spending increases regardless of the financial health of the state. The results have been disastrous. From 1992 to 2002, inflation adjusted per-pupil education revenue increased 29%(2), with no corresponding increase in academic achievement.

If Californians believed that Proposition 98 would at last bring an end to education lawsuits, they were in for a surprise. In May 2000 a group of organizations led by the ACLU filed Williams v. California, resulting in an August 2004 settlement costing California taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually(3).

Before the ink on Williams v. California could dry, the CTA and other groups launched an all-out assault on Governor Schwarzenegger’s reform proposals, proposals which would not have cut education funding but merely slowed the rate of increase(1). The multimillion dollar TV ad blitz paid off handsomely. All four reform proposals were defeated, and education spending in California is at an all time high.

Illinois’ constitution promises “primary funding” for education in Article X. In 1990, 60+ school districts named the Committee for Educational Rights sued Illinois demanding 51% state education funding.(4) It sounds like something that could happen here, except that 51% was never even written into Article X. If the education industry is willing to sue Illinois for a non-codified 51%, imagine what we’ll have to look forward to if we actually write 50% into our constitution.

In spite of their 3% income tax, multibillion dollar budget deficit, and some of the highest business taxes in the nation, pressure from rallies organized by the Illinois Education Association and other school groups has forced lawmakers and the Governor into battle over which new multibillion dollar tax proposal should be enacted for - you guessed it - education spending increases.

These examples show that passage of CACR18 will not only fail to stem the tide of funding lawsuits, it will actually encourage them, and almost certainly lead to sweeping new taxes. We might as well place a red sign on the front door of the statehouse that reads “sue me!”

If the perils of our neighbors are not persuasive enough, consider this. There is every chance that this amendment will never get past the people of New Hampshire. If the people defeat CACR18, we’ll be right back where we started, having done nothing to dissuade the court from interfering in what is rightly a legislative responsibility. The time to stop the courts is now. The time to stop the lawsuits is now. CACR18 will do neither.

1. California Education Reform - Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California Berkeley.

2. How Important Are Education Funding Comparisons? - Lance T. Izumi, Pacific Research Institute, Feb. 23, 2005

3. California Judge Finalizes Historic Education Settlement in ACLU Lawsuit - and

4. Supreme Court of Illinois in Docket No. 78198 The Committee for Educational Rights et. al., Appellants v. Jim Edgar, Governor of the State of Illinois, et al., Appellees.

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