Tonight: Join us to celebrate Education Week’s 2021 Leaders To Learn From. Register to attend the gala.
Law & Courts

Funding Advocates Accuse Idaho’s High Court Of ‘Cop-Out’

By Jessica L. Tonn — November 28, 2006 3 min read

After 16 years of litigation over how to pay for school facilities in Idaho, the only certainty in the case is uncertainty.

“[This case] is a complex mess at the moment,” Robert C. Huntley, the lawyer for the plaintiffs said in an interview this month. The class action was originally brought in 1990 by a coalition of school districts known as Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity.

Last December, the Idaho Supreme Court declared the state’s system for funding school facilities unconstitutional. It was the fifth time that the case had been brought before the five-member court.

“We are firmly convinced the legislature will carry out its constitutional duties in good faith and in a timely manner,” the justices wrote in that decision. “At this juncture, we will not remand the case to the district court, but will retain jurisdiction to consider future legislative efforts to comply with the constitutional mandate to provide a safe environment conducive to learning.”

Observers in Idaho interpreted the decision to mean that the court would keep the case open until the legislature had devised a funding plan that met the justices’ approval, much as supreme courts in other states have done.

Spending Increase

Legislators responded by debating several bills this year, and eventually approving a $25 million increase in school facilities spending. Many Idahoans, including the plaintiffs, have called the measure inadequate.

After the legislature finished working, however, lawyers on both sides found out that the court had intended to end the case in its December 2005 ruling.

According to a brief filed in a related case in September by Mr. Huntley, who is himself a former Idaho Supreme Court justice, lawyers for both sides found out in May that the case was closed through the court clerk, who told them at a scheduling conference.

“I think the opinion clearly said that while we keep retaining authority to review what the legislature does, as a policy matter, the decision about addressing these issues is up to the legislature,” Justice Linda Copple Trout told The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane, Wash., in early September. “We thought it was clear, but apparently it’s not.”

In a related case, having to do with costs associated with the trial, the plaintiffs’ brief argues that the court is stripping them of their right to due process and a remedial phase, and even mentions the possibility of bringing the case to federal court.

The state high court has indicated that its decision in the costs case may clarify the 2005 ruling, but it is unclear when that decision may come.

“There’s no authority in the nation for them ducking it the way they have,” Mr. Huntley said. “It’s just a cop-out to avoid confrontation with the legislature.”

State officials see the legal situation differently. “So far as I know, it’s over,” Michael S. Gilmore, the deputy attorney general defending the state, said of the facilities-finance case in an interview this month.

The only way that a remedy could be issued would be through appropriations, he said, which the state supreme court doesn’t have the power to authorize.

Despite their differences, both sides in the case agree on one thing. “Nobody knows what will happen next,” Mr. Gilmore said.

A ‘Real Conundrum’

Elizabeth Brandt, an associate dean and a professor at the University of Idaho College of Law, sees the court’s handling of the case as “particularly troubling and ambiguous.”

Since the case hasn’t been withdrawn, she said last month, it creates a “real conundrum” for the supreme court about whether it has the power to carry out its own judgment.

Ms. Brandt said the court could still weigh in on the new funding measure, if it wanted, by finding the legislature in contempt of court for not complying with its December 2005 decision.

Courts in other states’ school finance cases have been criticized by lawmakers for overstepping their authority, or “legislating from the bench,” as some call it. For example, in New Hampshire, a state with a 15-year-old finance lawsuit, lawmakers have discussed stripping the court of its jurisdiction over school funding.

“I can see how a court would be reluctant to put itself in that position,” Ms. Brandt said.

But Mr. Huntley hopes that backlash over the Idaho justices’ current stance will cause the high court to act. “We think that the supreme court has got enough flak from the press [about the case] that they’ll do something,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as Funding Advocates Accuse Idaho’s High Court of ‘Cop-Out’


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Court Restores Officers' Immunity Over Seizure of High School Athletes in Peeping Probe
A federal appeals court ruled in the case of two campus officers involved in detaining football camp participants for hours of questioning.
4 min read
Image of cellphones.
Law & Courts Appeals Court Weighs Idaho Law Barring Transgender Female Students From Girls' Sports
The three-judge federal court panel reviews a lower-court ruling that blocked the controversial statute and said it was likely unconstitutional.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Federal Appeals Court Backs Socioeconomic-Based Admissions Plan for Boston 'Exam Schools'
The court denies an injunction to block the plan for next year and says considering family income in admissions is likely constitutional.
3 min read
Image shows lady justice standing before an open law book and gavel.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Wary About Extending School Authority Over Student Internet Speech
In arguments, the justices looked for a narrow way to decide a case about the discipline of a cheerleader over a profane Snapchat message.
7 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court on April 23. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a major case on student speech.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP