Breaking: School Funding Lawsuit Filed

The Oregon School Funding Defense Coalition has filed a lawsuit against the State of Oregon alleging that "lawmakers have failed in their constitutional duty to adequately fund schools."

From the plaintiff's announcement:

In the Multnomah Co. Circuit Court filing, the plaintiffs, supported by the Oregon School Funding Defense Foundation, said, “This lawsuit is being filed to ensure that Oregon’s children receive the high-quality public education to which they are constitutionally entitled.”

“The state is not meeting its constitutional mandate to adequately fund public education,” said Paul Kelly, Oregon School Funding Defense Foundation board chair. “The Legislature has failed to fund our schools at a level sufficient to meet the quality goals established by law in 1991.”

Two provisions of Oregon’s constitution are at the heart of the lawsuit against the state. Article VIII, Section 8, which requires the Legislature to appropriate in each biennium a sum of money “sufficient to ensure that the state’s system of K-12 public education meets quality goals established by law;” and Article VIII, Section 3, which requires the Legislature to “provide by law for the establishment of a uniform and general system of Common schools.”

Read the press release (PDF) and the Q&A (PDF) from the plaintiffs.

Discuss.

Comments

  • Garlynn (unverified)
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    I applaud this effort to fully fund Oregon schools. As the Q&A points out, this is not a policy debate. This is a legal issue -- Oregon schools must be, by law, adequately funded. The Legislature must make the policy choices necessary to do so. However, not choosing to fully fund the school system is not an option.

    I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Finally, we're suing the b@stards!

    So, I just started my stop watch.

    I'll give the Gov and Queen Karen about two hours before they offer us MORE CRUMBS if we drop the lawsuit.

    NYC schools are getting more than $20,000,000,000 from the same kind of lawsuit.

    Hey Gov! Karen! PPS will be happy with just $15,000,000,000. Yes, you can keep the change.

  • (Show?)

    The advocates of this lawsuit seem to find it very easy to shrug off the consequences if they succeed, saying "well, it's the legislature's problem" to figure out how to do it all. But we know what will happen if education is funded at the level that the QEM would require, because there is only one option: devastating cuts to human services and public safety budgets.

    Last year the QEM called for a K-12 budget of over $7 billion. The entire General Fund budget was a little over $12 billion. K-12 ended up getting about $5.4 billion of that. Higher ed got another large chunk. The QEM endorsed by this lawsuit would have required K-12 to get another huge percentage of the entire budget on top of the nearly half that it got. That can only mean crippling cuts to other programs.

    The QEM is a nice aspirational goal, but it has no connection to the fiscal reality in which we live. Legislators deal in that reality. The mantra that education is the top priority doesn't make it easy to cut someone off from the Oregon Health Plan in order throw a few more bucks into a $5.4 billion K-12 budget. These are tough decisions, and the idea that we would ask a lone judge to override the policy judgments of 90 elected policymakers -- based on a vacuous constitutional reference to education "quality goals" -- makes no sense at all. To the extent this lawsuit is just a ploy to "start a dialogue," I doubt it will change any minds, and it certainly won't raise any new revenues.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    QEM is law, says the state.

    State failed to fund QEM.

    Now, the state pays up or it's Contempt of Court.

    The law is the law is the law, unless you are a Republican, I guess.

    Can't wait to see Ted and Karen grovel, in court.

  • Marvinlee (unverified)
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    The suit may succeed. If so, and the resulting funds fail to achieve the QEM goals, then a consistent followon is to revise the QEM to require even more money. As with the No Child Left Behind Act, I wonder if any amount of money will suffice to achieve the learning outcomes being sought.

  • keyfur (unverified)
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    chris says: But we know what will happen if education is funded at the level that the QEM would require, because there is only one option: devastating cuts to human services and public safety budgets.

    there is not just one option. oregon could also find the new sources of revenue it so desperately needs by getting rid of the kicker [corporate and personal], getting rid of the silly $10 minimum corportae income tax, or adopting new tax rates as jeff notes in his post about westlund right above this one. making this a choice between funding education and funding social services is doing a disservice to the real issue. all of the social services in oregon are struggling, not just education. the state needs to do something different, and in my opinion that means finding more/new revenue.

  • (Show?)

    Then let's focus our energy on tax reform and on electing people who will support it, not a wasteful and pointless lawsuit. What do you think is going to happen if the plaintiffs win? The court can't require the legislature to raise taxes. And do you seriously believe that this litigation will cause House Republicans to revisit their core philosophy regarding taxes? Are they going to suddenly support the tax increase that would be necessary to fund QEM while holding other services harmless?

    Without increasing the size of the pie, this lawsuit is a disaster for social services. And increasing the size of the pie is a matter of political will -- no court can make it happen.

  • Robert Harris (unverified)
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    Unfortuately for the plaintiffs here, Oregon Supreme court is very result driven. In other words, many times it seems like the process of law the court uses to analyze a case isn't necessarily as important as the social and political result of its decisions.

    Let me give you an example which is very relevant to the school lawsuit.

    There are very few constitutionally required government programs. But one is court appointed attorneys. Remember the 2003 budget shortfall? By March of 2003 the legislature disappropriated over thirteen million for indigent defense funds. We were going to run out before the end of the biennium. Justice Carson, the head of the indigent defense fund at the time, had three options. First, he could simply honor all the contracts with defense lawyers, the constitution and state law and continue to appoint lawyers as required until the money ran out in April, 2003. Then either the legislature would have to appropriated the money to fund this constitutional mandate, or all criminal defendants in Oregon, including murderers and rapists and robbers would have their charges dismissed. Second, as there was a lasuit filed by the ACLU, he could have Ordered that the legislature appropriate the money necessary to comply with Oregon Laws. Or three, he could come up with a political solution. He chose number three.

    In order to make sure there would be enough funding to supply lawyers for violent felons, Justice Carson ordered that there would be no court appointed lawyers for misdemeanor defendants or "low level" felony offndors (i.e. car thieves, meth users and ID thieves).

    But there was a little problem. The state constitution and state statutes. If you arraign someone on a criminal charge the constitution says they get a lawyer. There is also a statute that said you needed to arraign a defendent within eight days of their arrest. So Carson ordered every judge in this state to "start an arraignment" then suspend it if the defendant plead not guilty or asked for a lawyer. Their arraignment was then "continued" until after July 1. (there is no state providsion for "continuing" an arraignment, and if you think about it, its a difficult proposition to envision. An arraignment is just where the defendent is told what they're charged with, how they'd like to plea and whether they want a lawyer. So Carson's order really amounted to an arraignment, then a "do over" if the defendent plead not guilty or asked for a lawyer)

    This was a blatent violation of either the consitution, state statute or both.

    The second saddest day of my career as a lawyer was when Carson ordered every judge in this state to violate the law for pure political reasons. The first saddest day was when not a single judge refused to obey his illegal order. I wanted just one judge to say...I'm arraigning this defendant because state law says I have to. If the state won't suppoly him/her an attorney the charges will be dismissed as required by the constitution of the state of Oregon

    As I said before, there was a lawsuit filed by defense attorneys and the ACLU, and lo and behold, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld Chief Justice Carsons Order. (third saddest day, when not a single supreme court justice dissented). While I'm sure Carsons defenders will say that proves the validity of his Order, I'd point out that when the lawsuit reached the federal level, Judge Hogan (a conservative appointee) stated that the Order was clearly in violation of the law. Hogan however reached this conclusion after July 1st, funding had been restored, so he dismissed the action as moot because he found, somewhat optimistically in my opinion, that such a financial mess was unlikely to re-occur.

    Another thing for the plaintiffs in the school lawsuit. The legislature could have fixed the court appointed attorney funding problem by allocating 7 million dollars. That was the shortfall. If they had come up with that money, then we wouldn't have had three months of catch and release of meth freaks (any coincidence that the meth epidemic spiked shortly after). The school advocates on the other hand are looking for up to 2 billion dollars more. Maybe your chances of success are better with Carson gone, but believe me you will have an uphill battle with this Oregon Supreme Court.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Chris, you seem to be buying into the spin from Queen Karen and Wayne's World: But we know what will happen if education is funded at the level that the QEM would require, because there is only one option: devastating cuts to human services and public safety budgets.

    This is the mentality which says "the voters have spoken, therefore we are not allowed to even discuss tax reform--budgets are a zero sum game, with all tax breaks forever in place and anyone who wants to spend on one government service has to take it from another government service".

    I suggest those who say "the voters have spoken" look into the number of votes on the prevailing side of Measure 30 (Karen's favorite "the voters have spoken" measure) and Measure 1--the constitutional amendment requiring schools to be adequately funded.

    As I recall, there were far more votes for Measure 1, but there were politicians who ignored it as inconvenient.

    And this ties into the whole Westlund debate. Had Westlund and his friends prevailed, SB 382 would have been publicly debated, and we might have had an intelligent debate about the entire tax system in this state (which we should have had last session or the session before instead of the idiotic bucket plan etc.).

    Measure 30 was not put on the ballot by "the voters" as a grass roots uprising--remember when Dick Armey was here to help CSE in their drive to collect signatures? Didn't he make some crack like "the Oregon budget is not my concern"?

    Something like 38 states have had such suits before Oregon. I say it is great that parents and school districts got fed up and decided to sue.

  • keyfur (unverified)
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    chris says: Then let's focus our energy on tax reform and on electing people who will support it, not a wasteful and pointless lawsuit. What do you think is going to happen if the plaintiffs win? The court can't require the legislature to raise taxes. And do you seriously believe that this litigation will cause House Republicans to revisit their core philosophy regarding taxes? Are they going to suddenly support the tax increase that would be necessary to fund QEM while holding other services harmless?

    i agree that the number one problem is the people in salem. not that i have been paying as close attention as i should, but i have not heard any serious talk about revenue/tax reform from our capitol. we need to clean house there!

    and you are correct that the courts will probably not get the house republicans to revisit their values. that said, maybe a judgement for the plaintiffs in this case will help to motivate some voters to revisit their electoral choices and elect the people willing to have this conversation. [assuredly it will also motivate those who detest "activist judges".] maybe when people see the social programs that they care about [state police?] cut, they will realize that others need to be elected who will solve the larger problems. the courts cannot force tax reform with their ruling, but their ruling may make tax reform a more likely outcome.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    I'd like to remind readers that the good people of Oregon passed Measure One calling for a top quality educational system.

    The Legislature, who works for us (in theory), decided to ignore the LAW and give away the store to the state's businesses who are laughing all the way to their Hummer dealers with record profits and record low taxes and a billion or so corporate kicker.

    The law is the law is the law and we are going to roll-up the Oregon Constitution and slap these lawmakers around the courtroom with their own words and laws. Today is a great day in Oregon!

  • (Show?)

    LT, you are missing my point. I'm not saying that legislators SHOULD be buying into "the voters have spoken" nonsense spouted by Minnis and Scott. I'm saying that they ARE, and as a result, the political will for tax reform is not yet in place, and this lawsuit will not change that.

  • LT (unverified)
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    I'm not saying that legislators SHOULD be buying into "the voters have spoken" nonsense spouted by Minnis and Scott. I'm saying that they ARE, and as a result, the political will for tax reform is not yet in place, and this lawsuit will not change that.

    OK Chris, which legislative campaigns are you working on? Or do you believe that barring retirements there will be the exact same legislature elected in 2006 that we had in 2005 because no one is angry at the way the 2005 session went? May I remind you that all but 4 House seats have Democratic candidates? Do you know already how those elections will turn out?

    I would remind you that the number of voters who supported Measure 1 in 2000 was 940,223, and the number of voters (lower turnout for a special election) who voted for the winning side of Measure 30 was 691,462.

    I just don't believe that most voters will really re-elect Minnis, Scott and that whole crew to be the continuing majority. How many friends does each person involved in the lawsuit have? Will they talk to their friends about regime change in the House?

    Or will they say "all we have to do is file a lawsuit, not get involved in legislative campaigns"?

    That is what I think it boils down to.

  • Alice (unverified)
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    How about a lawsuit for failing to protect us from the criminals that are routinely "matrixed out" of metro county jails?

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    I support public schools, but the state budget is like a pizza. If the schools get a larger slice, somebody - or perhaps several somebodies - get a smaller slice. Who will get the smaller slice? Health care? Higher Education? Social services? Public employee pensions?

    In the dream world, we would all vote to buy a larger pizza so that all worthwhile programs would be funded adequately, but that is not happening in Oregon for the next century.

    Who should get a smaller slice to make up for the schools?

  • (Show?)

    LT, I'm not sure I completely understand your point, but you seem to be saying that the lawsuit will affect both (1) our chances to win elections this fall and (2) the Legislature's appetite for tax reform. I think both are faulty assumptions. On the first point, voters generally know how they feel about taxes and schools. The people who are excited about the lawsuit are the same people who already vote for progressive candidates. I see no reason to assume that a lawsuit that will drag on for years will change a single vote this fall.

    On the second point, legislators answer to voters, not judges. A progressive legislator who is inclined to support tax reform and/or a tax increase will do so regardless of the outcome of this litigation. On the other hand, a legislator who fundamentally opposes a tax increase, or who fears losing reelection if she supports one, is not going to vote yes just because the plaintiffs may win this lawsuit. If you disagree with that, then we just have fundamentally different views of how politicians behave.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Yo, Blue Note, what is the phone number for Mama Minnis' Pizza?

    Time they made a bigger pie, dontcha think?

    With all the trimmings, like art, dance, shop, music, drama and technology, please!

    You know, like your parents had in school.

  • Marvinlee (unverified)
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    The constitutional provision is results driven. That is, funding must be sufficient to obtain stipulated student learning performance and also to comply with specific minima established by law. A reasonable inference is that if a given level of money fails to produce desired outcomes, that the legislature must then keep on increasing the amount until the outcomes meet the criteria established. The many admirable characteristics of immigrants have not always included a great thirst for academics. The constitution calls for 1) stable and 2) equitable funding. If the suit prevails, I wonder what future cost levels Oregonians will be facing and what impact that will have on other public services.

  • urbanus (unverified)
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    How about decommissioning school districts that can't or won't operate within their resources? If the state, meaning the taxpayers, ends up repeatedly subsidizing nonperforming districts under this mandate, shouldn't the state supervise how the money gets spent? If the nonperforming districts want more blank checks from my tax dollars, shouldn't it come with at least a few strings attached? Like, for example, occasionally bestirring themselves to levy on the locals?

  • (Show?)

    Urbanus -- what the hell does "nonperforming" mean? I've started hearing that phrase bandied about, and I can't figure out what it means.

  • LT (unverified)
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    shouldn't the state supervise how the money gets spent?

    Urbanus, I hope this means you support Jim Hill's call for Sec. of State audits of school districts.

    Or did you have some other assessment in mind?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    An "underperforming" school is a place where the families are busy "performing" duties other than parenting like...working, learning English, working some more, finding a cheaper place to live, a car that works, affordable health care, and all the other fun things the poor do to make it through the day.

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