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Court Rejects Challenge To Neb. Finance System

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The Nebraska Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit claiming that the state's education-finance system is unconstitutional because it shortchanges rural schools.

The suit had been brought by Jack and Don Gould, two farmer brothers who have long challenged the fairness of the state's funding method.

Still, the divided opinion handed down this month suggests that the court may be open to reconsidering the plaintiffs' argument.

"It's not a definitive decision with respect to school-finance litigation in Nebraska,'' said Vard Johnson, the lawyer for the Goulds, who filed the suit in January 1990.

Mr. Johnson said he will petition for a rehearing before the court.

Farmers from Valparaiso, the Goulds have spent more than $10,000 of their own money on the suit and raised another $18,000. (See Education Week, April 7, 1993.)

They claim that children in their and other school districts lack the resources and exposure to advanced coursework that would put them on equal footing with students from districts with larger tax bases.

Jack Gould said he and his brother had decided to seek a rehearing, but were uncertain about legal action beyond that.

"It isn't that our heart isn't in it,'' he said. "It's a question of dollars and cents.''

A Mixed Opinion

The Goulds were appealing a district court decision in which the judge dismissed the suit on the grounds that education is not a fundamental right under the Nebraska constitution. Moreover, the court held, legislation passed after the lawsuit was filed rendered the Goulds' claims moot.

Four of the supreme court judges found that the dismissal was appropriate because the brothers had failed to show that funding disparities affected the quality of education.

"Appellants' petition clearly claims there is disparity in funding among school districts, but does not specifically allege any assertion that such disparity in funding is inadequate and results in inadequate schooling,'' the majority wrote.

One member of the majority argued that the constitution did not require equal funding.

The constitution "requires 'free instruction' in the 'common schools,' not the same instruction in all schools,'' wrote Judge D. Nick Caporale in a concurring opinion.

In a dissent, two judges said the Goulds' petition could be amended to include specific ways in which educational quality has been hurt.

But Judge David Lanphier, also dissenting, said the petition already included evidence of "the claimed constitutional inadequacy of the education at issue.''

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