Funding is up to lawmakers, not courts


Carolyn Edwards has confused her political frustrations with a constitutional crisis.

On Thursday, the Clark County School Board president said "We need to have a conversation about suing the state for not fulfilling its duties."

Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed reducing public education spending by 9 percent statewide for the 2011-13 biennium. The Legislature's majority Democrats lack the votes to pass tax increases and override Gov. Sandoval's promised veto. Languishing property and sales tax revenues, combined with reduced state support, will leave the School Board with $250 million to $400 million less than they'd like to spend.

Ms. Edwards and her colleagues on the School Board want nothing to do with a budget that has cuts of that magnitude, even though the law requires them to submit a balanced spending plan to the state by June 16. So, because she lacks the authority to ignore lawmakers and impose her own will, she's open to trying to find a judge to do it for her.

Ms. Edwards' idea is not groundbreaking. According to the National Access Network, an affiliate of the Columbia University Teacher's College, lawsuits challenging public school spending levels as inadequate have been brought in 45 states, Nevada not being among them. Most have failed.

The lawsuits have common denominators: lots of lousy test scores, easily manipulated dropout and graduation rates and achievement gaps between whites and non-Asian minorities. Plaintiffs argue that more funding for schools would right these wrongs, and that by not spending freely, state lawmakers are violating their constitutional duty to adequately fund education.

The problem for Ms. Edwards and anyone who supports her strategy: The Nevada Constitution doesn't impose such a standard on the Legislature. It requires lawmakers to fund a "uniform system of common schools" -- one in each county, open for at least six months a year.

The funding of education and the determination of whether it's adequate are the jurisdiction of the Legislature, not Ms. Edwards, and certainly not any court. Additionally, such litigation is prohibitively expensive and drawn out. If such a lawsuit were ever filed, it might not be resolved until the 2013 Legislature is in session.

That isn't likely to stop the agitation for such action, which started well before the economy tanked. In 2007, the consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, at the direction of the Legislature, completed a laughable report that concluded Nevada would have to nearly double education spending to comply with No Child Left Behind Act standards by 2013-14. (If money were the answer, why not triple it, just to be sure?)

Not coincidentally, a 2002 report by the same firm helped persuade the Kansas Supreme Court to order lawmakers there to significantly increase education spending.

A lack of money is not what ails public education, and more money won't cure it. Any such lawsuit in Nevada is a desperate search for activist judges who'll unilaterally raise taxes -- as though any amount of new money would be "adequate" to satisfy Ms. Edwards and her ilk.

 

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