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Oklahoma Districts File School-Finance Lawsuit

Disappointed by a $223-million reform bill passed by the Oklahoma legislature this year, a group representing 43 school districts has filed a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state's public-education system.

Organizers of the Fair School Finance Council, which filed the challenge in Oklahoma County District Court, are optimistic that the current challenge will fare better than a 1982 lawsuit targeting the state's school-funding formula. The earlier challenge, also spearheaded by the FSFC, ended when the state supreme court ruled in 1987 that the Oklahoma constitution does not guarantee equal school funding.

Gary Toothaker, superintendent of the Bartlesville schools and spokesman for the group, said the new suit will seek to prove the inadequacy of the state's education system through comparisons with neighboring states and national averages.

The council of property-poor districts criticized the legislature's reform plan for not eliminating funding inequities. (See Education Week, April 25, 1990.)

Mr. Toothaker added that a citizen challenge to the reform and tax plan was also a factor in the decision to file suit. A state anti-tax group has filed petitions to put a referendum overturning the law on the November ballot, but the issue remains tied up the courts.

A coalition of 31 Kansas school districts has filed a class action challenging the legislature's decision to maintain state aid to pre-collegiate education for the 1990-91 school year at the 1989 level.

The suit takes issue with lawmakers' decision to freeze state aid levels until property-tax reappraisals are completed.

During their 1990 session, legislators also argued that the state could not afford this year to revamp its school-aid formula, although some conceded that stance might make the state vulnerable to a lawsuit. (See Education Week, May 9, 1990.)

An interim legislative committee is expected to recommend changes in the funding formula during the 1991 legislative session.

Three Louisiana education groups filed suit in federal court last week to prevent parochial schools from getting money from the state's education trust fund.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education ruled in July that church-affiliated schools could compete for grants from the fund, which will distribute $28.5 million to elementary and secondary schools this year.

The board originally had voted to exclude parochial schools from the competitive-grant process, but changed its decision after some legislators attempted to freeze the fund.

The Louisiana Education Association, the Louisiana School Boards Association, and the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents argue in the suit that grants to parochial schools violate the First Amendment's ban on state establishment of religion.

The many other forms of state aid to Louisiana church-related schools are already under challenge in federal court. (See Education Week, March 21, 1990.)

Vol. 10, Issue 3

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