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Hot Topics Blog: Opening appellate brief filed in school funding lawsuit Print E-mail

kathrynfirestone07bby Kathryn Firestone, Executive Director, Oregon School Funding Defense Foundation

On Friday, Feb. 2, our opening brief was filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals (this document, along with other relevant briefs, background and power point can be found at www.osfdf.org) moving us along toward an eventual Supreme Court decision on Oregon’s constitutional requirements for funding adequacy of our K-12 schools.  I appreciate this opportunity to bring you up to date on the lawsuit and Foundation to this point.

While the recent elections and improved economy may result in increased funding for Oregon’s K-12 schools in the near term, we continue to believe it vitally important that our appellate courts weigh in to clarify the State’s constitutional obligation for the benefit of future legislatures and all Oregon’s school children, present and future.

As you may be aware, on September 15, 2006, the Multnomah County Circuit Court found for the State of Oregon on its motion for summary judgment in the funding adequacy lawsuit.  The court effectively reads Art. VIII, section 8 of our Constitution to say that "shall" means "if you like" and "and" means "or."  The net effect of the court's decision is that there is no implied or explicit school funding adequacy standard of any kind, minimum or otherwise, in our Constitution. We believe that to be alarming.  The Foundation’s board of directors and their attorneys continue to believe that to be faulty reasoning.

It is important to note that in the majority of the 26 states where plaintiffs ultimately prevailed, they first lost in their attempts before the lower courts.  The following demonstrates some of the positive effects brought about by adequacy lawsuits in states where plaintiffs prevailed:

  • In Kansas, the legal action resulted in a $755.6 million increase for public schools by 2008-09, a 26% increase over state funding in 2004-05.

  • The North Carolina decision resulted in a 9.6% increase in K-12 education spending for 2006-07, and an additional $17.9 million from lottery proceeds will expand their pre-K program.

  • In New York, the state complied with a now vacated earlier court ruling by allocating nearly $10 billion for capital construction to be phased in over the next 5 years. Additionally, $1.93 billion was awarded to New York City schools in the final court decision issued November 20, 2006.

It is more important than ever that we seek a meaningful explanation of the language in our Constitution to help our elected officials meet their obligations to Oregon’s children to ensure they get the education they both deserve and need to prepare for higher education and to meet the requirements of future employers.   The economic costs of an inadequate education affect not only our personal checkbooks, but our state’s financial bottom line as well:

  • 31 of every 100 high school freshman will drop out of high school before their senior year.

  • 80% of those incarcerated in Oregon’s prisons are high school drop-outs -- at an average cost to taxpayers of $23,000 per year.

  • On average, in addition to paying less income tax over his or her lifetime, a high school dropout costs the state $8450 annually in public services such as unemployment insurance, Medicare/Medicaid, welfare and food stamps and is four times more likely to be covered by the Oregon Health Plan, all of which results in raising the costs of these programs for all tax-paying Oregonians.

In addition to managing the litigation, the Foundation is committed to a public engagement process to help educate the public about the constitutional and statutory requirements for K-12 education and about the economic fallout from a less than adequate education. 

How you can help:

  • Schedule a presentation in your community – 30-45 minutes is ideal.  Full disclosure: the goal for these presentations is two-fold – to both increase public understanding and to raise the funds necessary to see us through a Supreme Court decision.

  • Help us place brochures prominently in your schools (staff lounges, district offices).   Simply let me know how many you would like.

  • Vote to endorse our efforts and then let us know so we can publicize that support.  It’s worth noting that in addition to the “traditional” education community, we have received endorsement from organizations such as the Oregon Business Association, the Oregon PTA, Stand for Children, and the Portland Schools Foundation, as well as from individuals representing a variety of interests – parents, business owners, and attorneys – from across the state.

  • Within your community, talk about the constitutional requirements and obligations that we have for all our students, as well as the economic costs incurred when we fail to provide educational opportunities.

If you have questions or comments, please enter them below, and I will respond promptly.  For further information, I can be reached at info@osfdf.org.  I look forward to hearing from you.  And thanks – for all you do for Oregon’s kids.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, March 06, 2007 .