Albuquerque Public Schools contemplates forming coalition to mount school funding sufficiency challenge
Facing increasing budget cuts, some school districts in New Mexico are considering filing suit challenging the sufficiency of the state’s education funding scheme, says the Albuquerque Journal. ”I think it’s fairly serious, actually,” Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Winston Brooks said about the possibility of suing. “It’s as serious as it’s ever been since I’ve been in Albuquerque.” However, Brooks cautions that APS would not bring a suit on its own. “I have no interest in APS being the only plaintiff in the case,” Brooks said. “We need to get the majority of districts on board.” Legislative Finance Committee Chair Luciano “Lucky” Varela said groups have the right to sue, but legislators have a mandate to balance the budget. ”They have the prerogative of filing a lawsuit, and we’ll have to deal with that if and when it happens,” Varela said.
Tom Sullivan, who heads the New Mexico School Superintendents Association, said his organization has joined with the two major teachers unions and the New Mexico School Boards Association to study the legal issues that could be involved in such a suit. The results of that study so far show the school boards would have a case, according to Sullivan. Attorney Todd Wertheim, who did the legal study, said New Mexico’s constitution has strong language on education funding. Specifically, he said it requires “free public schools sufficient for the education of, and open to, all the children of school age in the state.” If a case were filed, it would largely turn on the word “sufficient” and whether current funding levels can support a sufficient system.
It’s not clear exactly what “sufficient” would be, but Wertheim said plaintiffs likely would rely heavily on a state-commissioned study done two years ago by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The AIR study found that the $2.4 billion spent on public education in the 2007-08 fiscal years was about $300 million too little to provide New Mexico’s children an adequate education. At the time, advocates were pushing for an overhaul of the funding formula for public schools. APS is having its attorneys look at the issues and is planning a board meeting with legal counsel to learn more about the viability of a suit. Several APS board members have expressed support for the move at past meetings, although board President Martin Esquivel has misgivings.
Source: Albuquerque Journal, 10/26/10, By Hailey Heinz
[Editor's Note: The AIR report is available at the first link below.
APS has the largest student enrollment - over 94,000 - of the 89 school districts in New Mexico. If APS forms a coalition to initiate a school funding adequacy suit, it will join thirteen others currently pending across the country, according to data gathered by the National Access Network. See the Access chart at the second link below.
In August, 2010, the Orlando Sentinel reported that a Leon County Circuit Court judge had a allowed a suit to go forward in which the plaintiffs claim that Florida is violating the state constitution because it is failing to fund education adequately or to provide a system of "high quality" public schools. A summary of the article is available at the third link below.
A coalition of students, school districts and education groups filed suit against the state of California in May, 2010, in an effort to force the governor and legislature to develop a new system to fund its cash-strapped public schools, reported the Associated Press in Bloomberg Businessweek. The California School Boards Association (CSBA), along with the California State PTA, and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), are members of the coalition. “Filing this lawsuit was a last resort,” said CSBA President Frank Pugh. Later that summer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a second suit filed against the governor and state by a coalition of grassroots community groups claiming that the state’s educational system is unconstitutional. The coalition claimed that schools serving mostly low-income and minority students are unequally and inadequately funded, and asked for a ruling directing the Legislature and the governor to address the disparities in teacher quality, class sizes, and facilities. ]