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Published in Print: December 7, 2005, as Finance Suits Being Pursued in Conn., Mo.

Finance Suits Being Pursued in Conn., Mo.

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Plaintiffs in Missouri and Connecticut are going to court to seek more state aid for schools.

Late last month, a group of 237 Missouri districts took steps to press on with a lawsuit arguing that the state’s school funding system is unfair and inadequate.

Calling themselves the Committee for Education Equality, the districts brought suit against the state in January. But the legal challenge stalled in June after the legislature approved a new funding system. The committee signaled its intent to keep up the fight on Nov. 22, when its lawyers returned to Cole County Circuit Court seeking permission to file a revised argument.

“Basically, we’re saying things are no better than they were under the old formula, and the new formula is underfunded,” said Alex Bartlett, the districts’ lawyer.

The new law tries to equalize state aid payments to schools by setting a minimum funding level per student. Scheduled to be phased in over seven years, beginning in 2006-07, the formula will add $800 million a year to the $2.5 billion the state now gives to school districts.

Mr. Bartlett said the committee lost 21 of the original plaintiff districts after the law was passed, but other districts stepped up to take their places.

According to Mr. Bartlett, the new formula falls short of districts’ needs, in part because districts must wait seven years to get the full increase in state aid.

But Spence Jackson, a spokesman to Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican who was a prime mover behind the new school aid law, defended it. “This law is going to have a positive impact on students and the learning process in our state,” Mr. Jackson added.

Plaintiffs in Connecticut, including 15 students in eight districts, filed a class action in state superior court on Nov. 22, arguing that the state’s school funding system violates the Connecticut Constitution by not providing for “suitable and substantially equal education opportunities.”

The suit is backed by a group of mayors, school districts, and education organizations called the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding. Accusing the state of not following its own formulas for allocating aid to districts, they say local taxpayers are paying too much of the total bill for their schools. ("Coalition of Conn. School Leaders and Mayors Plans Finance Lawsuit," Nov. 16, 2005.)

Their complaint calls for a new finance system based on what it costs to provide an adequate education. Responding in a statement, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, said that lawmakers, “not judges,” should fix the system.

Vol. 25, Issue 14, Page 27

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