If You Thought that the Montoy Decision was Expensive

Lawsuits over school funding are not unique to Kansas.

Frederick M. Hess describes the funding-through-lawsuit phenomenon.

In the 1970s, the theme was equity: “focused on reducing differences in spending between school districts in a given state. This dragged litigants into a “Robin Hood” scenario, seeking to take funds from high-spending suburban districts and give them to poorer districts. This strategy had limited political appeal and modest success, with plaintiffs triumphing only about a third of the time in court.”

In the 1980s, equity lawsuits gave way to adequacy ones, “which skirted divisive politics by promising to raise spending everywhere to some vague standard.”

In Kentucky, the highest court imposed $1.3 billion in new taxes each year, so that students would obtain “sufficient knowledge.”

The problem with these types of lawsuits–Hess counts 40 states that have been subjected to funding lawsuits–is that there is no objective way to determine how much money is enough. “There is no sensible way of determining what amount of spending is ‘adequate,'” he says.

The distribution of taxpayer money should involve politics at one point–at least that’s what you’d think when you consider that public budgets are funded through taxation, the level of which is determined by . . . politicians. But that’s not the view presented by the sue-ers.

“Suits brought by these litigators insist that rather than relying on the political process, ‘experts’ should determine exactly how much money is needed to run a good school.”

Spending decisions are by nature arbitrary. That’s why they are best left to the political process. When judges try to “scientifically” determine the “right” spending level, they cheapen the law.

As if the financial and legal costs of these suits was bad enough, there’s more: “Infusions of new money can actually make it easier to shrug off tough decisions on how schools are run, and how educators are paid, evaluated, and hired.”

Hess warns that No Child Left Behind, by setting out a goal of 100 percent proficiency, will serve the cause of adequacy lawsuits even more: “this aspirational language could ultimately mean that states are violating Constitutional protections in any locale where 100% of students are not deemed proficient in math and reading.”

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