Sunday, December 25, 2005

Idaho Supreme Court rules that state system of 100% local financing of school construction projects with a 2/3 majority required to pass bond issues violates Idaho State's Constitution,but court stops short of ordering particular steps the Idaho Legislature should take. Did Idaho take its cue from the Kansas fiasco? The Idaho Statesman Last week the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that local funding with supermajorities required for successful bond issues was unconstiutional. December 21, 2005 – Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity, et al. v. The State of Idaho – Declaratory judgment - News Release
House Speaker Bruce Newcomb was happy the courts left the decision-making to the Legislature. lawmakers may first look to proposals they've passed, but never completely funded, like a plan to help districts pay some of the interest costs on their bonds. Robert Huntley, attorney for the districts who sued the state over schoolhouse funding, thinks the Legislature should pay for 30 percent of school bonds passed by voters and half the tab for maintaining school buildings. The annual price tag under Huntley's plan: $33 million to $38 million.The Supreme court found 4-1 that funding reforms from 2001 were inadequate. 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. But Idaho is not the only state whose plan for funding school construction has run afoul of the courts. In the 1990s, courts ruled against the way Arizona, Wyoming and Ohio pay for school buildings, saying their systems were not equitable. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne tried in his first year in office to lower the supermajority to just 60 percent, but the Legislature wouldn't agree to the change. Many current lawmakers, though, weren't around the last time this issue was hashed out in the Statehouse. "A lot of people really haven't dealt with this," said House Democrat leader Wendy Jaquet, who was happy with the verdict that reiterated what her party has been saying for years. Idaho's 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 15 years, even making it to the Idaho Supreme Court. In 2001, 4th District Judge Deborah Bail ruled the state's levy system was unconstitutional, prompting the state to bring a bevy of issues on appeal to the Supreme Court. Still, the Supreme Court ruled only that there was a problem and left the method of fixing to the Legislature. Huntley said the ruling was a positive step for schoolchildren and their families.

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