Lawsuits pending in 11 states over adequacy of education funding

Washington is not alone in facing court troubles over school funding. Stateline.org reports today on just how frequently litigation and education funding have become entwined.

Across the country, litigation is pending against 11 states over inadequate or inequitable school funding. That is nothing new: Over the years, all but five states have been the subjects of such lawsuits. The change is that in many of the recent cases, higher state standards lie at the heart of the arguments.

That’s true here, where higher standards and the legislature’s own attempt to define basic education provided the fuel for the McCleary lawsuit and the state Supreme Court finding that Washington was not meeting its constitutional requirements. But, as reformers have argued, it shouldn’t be only about the money. From the Stateline story:

 Eric Hanushek, an education expert at Stanford’s Hoover Institution who has conducted influential research on evaluating teachers, said there is too much focus on the amount of money states spend, and not enough on how they spend it.

Hanushek, who has testified on behalf of states in school funding lawsuits more than a dozen times since 1973,  said there is “considerable evidence that suggests that there’s no clear relationship between what’s spent on schools and student performance.”

“It’s very difficult for the courts to address issues of how money is spent. They can’t enforce it, they don’t have the capacity to make these kinds of policy decisions very well, so the courts generally stick quite narrowly to how much money is spent,” he said.  “That hasn’t been very effective in terms of improving achievement.”

Hanushek said school spending is largely driven by class size and teacher salaries, and he asserts that neither is closely related to student achievement. Instead, he argues that school districts should focus on improving teacher quality.

As the legislature enters its remaining few weeks, it’s unlikely that lawmakers will find the substantial new money for McCleary. A possible showdown with the Court may occur as early as this summer. Meanwhile, Sen. Michael Baumgartner has dropped his own bill to turn the tables on the Court. It won’t go anywhere. Still, I doubt the justices have any sense of humor regarding such things. We’ll see.