Court: State must fund school buildings
From The Associated Press
The state's method of funding schoolhouse construction is unconstitutional, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, Dec. 21.
The scathing, 21-page ruling scolds the Legislature for quibbling over the details of a few crumbling schools while failing to look at the big picture and that the local bonding system established by lawmakers to pay for school buildings is insufficient under the Idaho Constitution, leaving many students without a safe place to learn.
The ruling means the Legislature must come up with a new system for paying for school construction.
"The list of safety concerns and difficulties in getting funds for repairs or replacements is distressingly long," Justice Linda
Copple-Trout wrote for the majority. "The overwhelming evidence not only supports, but compels the district court's conclusion of law: The funding system in effect in 2001 was simply inadequate to meet the constitutional mandate to provide a thorough system of education in a safe environment."
Idaho is the only state that provides no direct support for public school construction and still requires a two-thirds majority to approve local construction bonds.
The lawsuit began in 1990, when a group of 22 school districts calling itself Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity banded together to sue the state over public school funding. The class-action lawsuit has bounced from court to court over the past 15 years, even making it to the Idaho Supreme Court a handful of times. In 2001, 4th District
Judge Deborah Bail finally ruled the state's levy system was unconstitutional, prompting the state to bring a bevy of issues on appeal to the Supreme Court.
In a 4-1 decision, the high court's ruling today struck down those issues, stripping the case to a simple question of funding.
"In short, the state fails to grasp the relevance of the adage 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,'" Copple-Trout wrote.
Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity is a proper party to bring the class-action lawsuit, the high court found, and as such is entitled to show the statewide safety problems that resulted from the state's funding methods. Even though some of the state's most damaged schools have been repaired or replaced since the lawsuit began, the high court ruled that the repairs did not render the lawsuit moot.
"The state's pedantic focus on such details as whether it would cost $7 million to build a new school as opposed to the district court's finding of $10 million distracts from the overwhelming evidence in the record documenting serious facility and funding problems in the state's public education system," Copple-Trout wrote.
Still, the Supreme Court only ruled that there was a problem, and left the method of fixing it in the hands of the Legislature.