Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

State High Court Will Hear Appeal on School Funding Tangle of Issues Makes Case Complex

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

State High Court Will Hear Appeal on School Funding Tangle of Issues Makes Case Complex

Article excerpt

Last year, Cole County Circuit Judge Byron Kinder held Missouri's method of funding public schools unconstitutional, touching off a rush by legislators to enact a new funding formula and a tax increase to help finance it.

On Tuesday, in an appeal filed by the state, the Missouri Supreme Court will be asked to decide whether Kinder went too far in his ruling on the formula for distributing some $1 billion annually to public schools.

In January 1993, Kinder ruled that the Missouri Constitution requires the state to fund public schools in such a way that all children are afforded substantially equal educational opportunities.

Even before that ruling, Gov. Mel Carnahan and legislative leaders had acknowledged inequities in the 15-year-old formula and said it should be replaced - which lawmakers did by the time the 1993 session ended.

"This is probably the most important school case to come in front of the court in the history of the state," Attorney General Jay Nixon said Friday.

"This will be the seminal case to decide whether or not the method we use to fund education in Missouri meets constitutional mandates or not," Nixon added.

Jefferson City attorney Alex Bartlett says Kinder's ruling was correct and the court should uphold it. He represents 89 school districts that were part of the lawsuit that led to the decision now being appealed.

"There are some principles which should stand for the future. Is education a right in Missouri which can be enforced by the courts? We think it is and we think the court should say it," Bartlett said.

In the 1970s, Bartlett said, the state's highest court declared education a fundamental right in Missouri, "and we think that is controlling and should be extended to this factual situation.

"We think the court should affirm the decision of Judge Kinder and allow it to be remanded for further consideration by him," said Bartlett, whose clients form the Committee for Educational Equality. …

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