Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Adequacy Litigation: Alive and Well

October 02, 2007 3 min read
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To the Editor:

Alfred A. Lindseth’s Commentary opining that educational adequacy victories “may be drawing to an end” perhaps reflects his wishes more than reality (“A Reversal of Fortunes: Why the Courts Have Cooled to Adequacy Lawsuits,” Sept. 12, 2007). As an attorney who defends states charged with inadequate funding, he naturally has a keen eye for evidence supporting his perspective. Alas, he cherry-picks his examples. If we look at all adequacy decisions since Kentucky’s Rose v. Council for Better Education in 1989, the states’ highest courts have ruled against states by better than a 2-to-1 margin.

Educational adequacy studies are losing credibility, says Mr. Lindseth. We would expect him, as a courtroom lawyer, to attack the credibility of testimony adverse to his side. However, if judged by their increase in quality and quantity, adequacy studies are gaining credibility. There are numerous such studies by a wide variety of authors. In comparing ones released before and after 2005, the later studies are more sophisticated and use multiple methods. And they say we need a lot more money if every child is to be well educated.

In saying that “schools alone cannot fix the problem,” Mr. Lindseth stumbles over a fact well known to anyone who has spent time in schools. Adequacy studies have consistently shown that we have shortchanged our poor, minority, and non-English-speaking children. The problem is poverty. We should not be blinded to believe that pedagogy and growth models will overcome bad environments.

Finally, Mr. Lindseth repeats the mantra that money doesn’t matter. He says he has searched “in vain” for evidence that spending remedies have led to greater student achievement. He overlooked a vast literature on this topic. The academic argument was sown up in the early 1990s: Money matters. And it matters a great deal for the neediest children in our society.

William J. Mathis

Superintendent

Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union

Brandon, Vt.

To the Editor:

Alfred A. Lindseth has the facts wrong in his Commentary.

Oregon’s court hasn’t “ruled that the amount of K-12 education funding is a political question for the legislature, and not the courts, to decide.” The trial-court judge found no such thing, and Pendleton School District 16R et al. v. State of Oregon et al. is currently pending in the court of appeals. Rather, the judge determined there was no implied adequacy standard in our constitution, but we find dual reasons to disagree. Oregon’s constitution has language similar to that found in other state constitutions (Article VIII, Section 3 obligates the state to “provide by law for the establishment of a uniform, and general system of common schools”), and also contains an education funding mandate. Adopted by an overwhelming majority of voters, Article VIII, Section 8 directs the legislature to appropriate money “sufficient to ensure that the state’s system of public education meets quality goals established by law,” leading me to a second discrepancy.

Mr. Lindseth avows that “costing-out studies are losing their credibility.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Those “quality goals” are directly tied to Oregon’s Quality Education Model. Our state, lauded nationally for the work of the nonpartisan commission charged with developing the model, identified—through data-based research—best practices for K-12 education, encapsulated them into prototype schools, and assigned real-world costs to those services.

The public is unlikely to decrease its call for accountability. Moreover, our success as education advocates hinges directly on our ability to identify what citizens pay for services delivered to students, and articulate the impact of those services on kids’ education and our economic health and welfare. Transparency, efficiency, and accountability are goals critical to all areas of government service, and public schools are no exception. The Quality Education Model provides both substantive direction and credibility to deliver on those goals for Oregon.

Kathryn Firestone

Executive Director

Oregon School Funding Defense Foundation

Portland, Ore.

The writer is a former commissioner of the Oregon Quality Education Commission.

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