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Illinois Districts File School-Finance Lawsuit

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A group of 47 Illinois school districts, including Chicago, last week filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court challenging the state's school-finance system.

The state has failed to provide the constitutionally required "efficient system of high-quality public education" by maintaining a discriminatory school-finance formula, underfunding many districts, and neglecting the needs of poor preschool children, according to the suit filed by the Committee for Educational Rights.

Superintendents of the districts called the lawsuit the "last hope" for improvements in the finance system, which relies largely on local property taxes. Observers and lawmakers have said the threat of a lawsuit might be needed to force the legislature to consider reforms in school funding. (See Education Week, Dec. 13, 1989.)

"How can we explain the fact that the wealthier school districts spend more than $12,000 per student when the poorer districts can only spend as little as $2,100," argued Alan Hickrod, a professor at Illinois State University in Normal and chairman of the advocacy group Coalition for Educational Rights.

But Superintendent of Education Robert Leininger, who was named as a defendant in the suit, said he remains hopeful that finance inequities can be resolved "through the legislative process rather than by the courts."

New Mexico's National Education Association affiliate last week said it will appeal a court ruling upholding the dismissal of a teacher under the state's due-process law covering educators.

In 1986, the legislature abolished tenure for teachers, replacing the lifelong protection with a due-process procedure that gives final decisionmaking to an arbitrator. The new law also places the burden of proof on the teacher rather than on the district.

When Patricia Wahe, a special-education teacher in the Fort Sumner schools for nine years, was fired last year, she filed suit after the arbitrator ruled in favor of the school board.

But District Judge Art Encinias ruled this month that the district had satisfied due-process conditions by notifying Ms. Wahe of the board's decision and offering her the opportunity to challenge it. "Due process of law requires nothing more," he wrote.

With its "reduced standard for termination of employment," the judge argued, the 1986 law does not entitle her to a finding of "good and just cause."

Ohio voters on Nov. 6 rejected the most local school-funding requests in eight years, state education department officials said.

Only 109 of the 261 school money requests on the ballot were approved, resulting in a 41.76 approval rate--the lowest since 1982, when only 40.8 percent of local school issues passed.

One of the most significant defeats was in Cincinnati, where voters' rejection of a $30-million levy forced school officials to seek an emergency state loan. (See Education Week, Nov. 14, 1990.)

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