News Updates

January 17, 1990 2 min read

Nearly a year after declaring Montana’s system of paying for its public schools unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court early this month relinquished its jurisdiction over the school-finance case.

The court’s decision to bring the case to a close was made despite objections from James Goetz, the lawyer representing the 68 school districts that filed the suit nearly five years ago.

Any future challenge to the new funding system--which was hammered out by legislators in a special session last summer--will now have to be made in district court, a more time-consuming process than going directly to the supreme court, Mr. Goetz said.

Last February, the high court ruled that, because the state school-finance system relied so heavily on locally approved property-tax levies, students in poorer districts were being denied equal educational opportunities. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1989.)

In removing the case from its jurisdiction, said Eric Feaver, president of the Montana Education Association, the court is saying that the new funding system, “however flawed, is the law of the state and constitutional until challenged and proven otherwise.”

The justices, responding to requests made by lawyers for the state and the plaintiffs, also agreed to delay until July 1, 1991, the deadline by which a constitutional system must be in place.

The delay, the court said, will permit the next legislature to appraise, and possibly to refine, the new funding system. The new system is scheduled to go into effect in July.

The Kentucky board of education has decided not to move forward with a plan that would have eased the state’s “academic bankruptcy” law for poor school districts.

The board had voted in November to al6low the state to set lower standards for minimum levels of scores on standardized tests for districts serving a high concentration of low-income students. (See Education Week, Nov. 22, 1989.)

State officials said the plan was an attempt to recognize that districts serving poorer students face certain difficulties in meeting standards that richer districts do not.

But the proposal was criticized by state legislators and the media, who feared that the plan would allow districts to use poverty as an excuse for poor performance.

Last month, the state board rescinded its decision to implement the plan, but said it would be reconsidered this spring after modifications are made.

The Washington State Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments this week in a lawsuit filed by a group of newspapers seeking the release of the certification records of 89 teachers who had been accused of sexual misconduct with students. (See Education Week, May 10, 1989.)

A lower state court ruled in 1988 that the certification records of the teachers, who had voluntarily surrendered their teaching certificates or who had had them revoked, should be released.

The newspapers, owned by Cowles Publishing Company, had been investigating reports that teachers accused of sexual misconduct with students had been allowed to leave the school system unpunished and unreported.

The state superintendent of public instruction appealed the ruling, and won a temporary injunction to block the records’ release.

School officials argue that the files contain information considered confidential under state open-records statutes.

The appeal also contends that releasing such information would hinder the district’s ability to investigate child-molestation charges, and that it would violate the privacy rights of teachers who had been falsely accused.

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 1990 edition of Education Week as News Updates