State loses another attempt to quash school funding lawsuit

Laster. Photo from Delaware courts.

The State of Delaware has lost another attempt to quash a lawsuit claiming that the state’s current school funding formula unconstitutional.

Vice Chancellor Travis Laster issued a 133-page decision in rejecting the motion to dismiss the suit that was filed by a coalition of groups that include the NAACP and ALCU.

Among the state’s arguments was the claim that ruling on the formula would show a “lack of respect” for other branches of government.

The state also argued that “a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards” makes it impossible for the judiciary to determine whether Delaware’s system of public schools complies with the Education Clause.

Click here for the full text of the ruling.

Laster noted that “courts in New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas have held that their state funding systems, which structurally resembled Delaware’s, violated their education clauses.”

Outgoing State Treasurer Kenneth Simpler attempted to not be a party to the legal action. That plea was denied.

“The Education Clause mandates that the General Assembly “establish and maintain a general and efficient system of free public schools.” Counts I and II assert legally cognizable claims that the State has failed to satisfy its obligation for Disadvantaged Students. These issues are justiciable. The motion to dismiss is denied,” Laster wrote.

The state formula has come under fire for not setting aside funds for students who need additional help in meeting educational standards.

The four-decade-old formula essentially allocates a set amount of money for each student within a district regardless of achievement levels.

Critics claim the formula allows more affluent and faster growing school districts to devote more resources and enrichment resources to students who need less academic help.

They go on to contend that the playing field is further tilted when voters approve bond issues that add new facilities and resources in districts that typically have a low enrollment of disadvantaged and minority students

Another source of funds for the fast-growing districts has come from impact fees paid when new homes are built in area like Middletown.

Critics further claim charter schools that received sufficient start-up funds from parents and others also benefit to the exclusion of public districts, a few of which are now seeing sluggish or reduced enrollment.

The state has issued grants to aid disadvantaged students, but has refrained from altering the current formula.

Another bone of contention has been the unwillingness of counties to reassess property over fears that taxpayers would rebel over higher tax bills.

The state hired attorneys Barry M. Willoughby, Lauren E.M. Russell, Elisabeth S. Bradley and Lauren Dunkle Fortunato, of Young Conaway Stargatt and Tayor in their attempt to overturn the suit.

Representatives for the state and its three counties unsuccessfully attempted to quash the lawsuit in October.

Click on headline below for previous ruling

Vice chancellor rules against state, county request to drop part of school funding lawsuit

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