Fight for more funding for K-12 schools reaches Nevada Supreme Court
Nevada Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments Monday in a case that challenged the constitutionality of state funding of the K-12 education system after a lower court dismissed the parent-led lawsuit last year.
The lawsuit, which has nine parents as plaintiffs, dates back to early March 2020, days before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the governor to shut down schools. The litigation, supported by the equal rights organization Educate Nevada Now, argues that the state is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide students with adequate educational resources.
The filing of the lawsuit was followed by years of dissatisfaction with Nevada’s school financial system, one of the worst in the United States. In Education week the latest quality counts Report on school funding, Nevada ranks last in the nation with a D grade. The annual report examines education spending and equity in the K-12 countries.
But in October 2020, Carson City District Court Justice James Wilson dismissed the lawsuit, stating that “the court will not replace its ruling on Nevada state education with that of the legislature.”
Plaintiffs appealed the ruling, which led to a hearing in the Nevada Supreme Court on Monday. Plaintiffs’ pro bono attorney Bradley Schrager argued that constitutional language in relation to education is not just something to aspire to, as the defense has argued.
“We couldn’t disagree more than we could,” he said. “We feel they are a positive right for the Nevada people and school children – a right to a meaningful chance of an appropriate education, because when you say appropriate, is the point appropriate for what?” Suitable for the rest of your life. “
“It’s not just about the money,” emphasized Schrager.
“The point here is whether the resources that are made available to schools – and money is only one type of resource – are sufficient to fulfill the constitutional task that the legislature and the state must provide for meaningful education”, he said .
Attorney General Heidi Parry Stern countered, saying that the court has been asked to go beyond the text of the constitution and hold lawmakers accountable for failing to meet the “desirable” educational standards provided by the jurisdiction.
“It is understandable that plaintiffs want this court to resolve the problems facing Nevada public schools. I suspect we all sympathize with this desire, ”she said. “But it is the duty of this court, as just one branch of a tripartite state government, to recognize that it is not possible in this case.”
Stern warned that judges would be asked to “wade into this quagmire” and make proscriptive decisions on serious political issues ranging from underperforming schools, teacher shortages, and lack of resources – issues the court is unprepared for. However, their arguments were challenged by Judge Elissa Cadish, who asked at what point the constitutional requirement for the legislature to provide a level of basic education would not be met.
“If there were classes with 50 and 60 students in our high schools, is that a basis for questioning whether it is actually a basic education?” Asked Cadish.
“As someone who went to college where I took classes with hundreds of students, I would personally say no,” Stern replied, to which Cadish replied that she hoped her third year wouldn’t be in one of those classes.
Spurred on by further questions from the judges, Stern said that the language of the constitution does not waive legal objections to the adequate funding of the K-12, but that this case relies on the legislature’s performance metrics being constitutional requirements, a bridge that for that Court too far is -commended action.
“The plaintiffs here are trying to impose ambitious standards on the state,” she said. “You’re not trying to get rid of something the legislature did that was contrary to the constitution.”
Judges did not rule immediately after the case, but a written order is likely in the coming weeks or months.
The battle for more K-12 education funding has been an integral part of recent Nevada legislative sessions. In 2019, legislators passed a new K-12 funding formula that fundamentally revised the state’s previous 50-year-old distribution method.
The new student-centered funding plan, as it’s called, pools dozens of educational funding streams into one giant pot, and also employs a weighted distribution method that, in theory, lets students flow money according to their needs. However, critics say the lack of a dramatic injection of cash means the money is just being reshuffled, making the weighting ineffective.
The pandemic-induced economic downturn clouded hopes of a massive increase in state funding for education during the 2021 legislative period; However, lawmakers have passed a bill directing increased mining revenues into public education.