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Idaho Judge Dismisses Equity Suit

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An Idaho district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state's school-finance system, ruling that the state legislature rendered the case moot by responding to some of the plaintiffs' complaints.

"This lawsuit was filed...when a dramatically lower level of funding existed, when a different formula for distribution existed, and when state regulations on standards existed that will be different in the known future," District Judge Gerald F. Schroeder said in his opinion.

"If the [state] Supreme Court follows the precedent it has established," he said, "the plaintiff may be able to state a claim in the future, but that is a lawsuit which must address a different level of funding, a different formula, and different standards of thoroughness."

A lawyer for the plaintiffs said he expects to file a new suit soon, arguing that the new finance system is also inadequate.

A group of 32 districts filed the unsuccessful suit, arguing that the state failed to provide a "uniform and thorough" system of public education as required by the state's Constitution.

State Funding Increases

Earlier this year, the state legislature revised the state aid formula and approved a $92 million increase for public schools, the largest in the state's history.

As a result, a separate group of school districts who had sued over disparities between districts dropped its suit. (See Education Week, 03/30/94.)

In addition, the state board of education plans to implement regulations next spring that set out new standards for measuring school performance. Judge Schroeder noted that this essentially redefined what constitutes a "thorough" education, altering the criteria under which the state supreme court had returned the case to him for further consideration.

The plaintiffs had charged that some schools' inability to adhere to the old regulations resulted from insufficient funds.

In his succinct six-page decision, Judge Schroeder observed the pitfalls for courts of addressing school-finance questions.

"Essentially," he wrote, "the court is being called upon to grade the legislature and possibly scold the legislature if it does not fund schools to a standard of thoroughness, "even though [the plaintiffs] admit that such funding probably exceeds the resources of the state."

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