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Candidates need to address issue of school funding

A coalition representing most of the state’s public school districts has decided against an appeal of a Franklin County Circuit Court ruling early this year that only the General Assembly can determine what is adequate funding for Kentucky’s schools, not the courts.

That’s a sensible decision that brings an end to a lawsuit filed four years ago.

The Council for Better Education, representing 164 of the state’s 175 school districts, asked the court to order the General Assembly to increase school funding. The council contended schools were underfunded by more than $1 billion in the 2003-2004 school year.

It was the same coalition of school districts that filed the landmark suit in 1985 that led to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision in 1989 that the entire public school system was unconstitutional. That decision in turn led to the historic 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act passed by the General Assembly.

But the key point in the 1985 case hinged on inequities of funding between rich and poor school districts. The latest suit hinged on what is adequate to fund the public schools, and Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled in February that’s a decision only legislators can make.

Wingate’s ruling, however, doesn’t mean the Council for Better Schools was wrong in its assertion about the amount of underfunding of schools. Most thoughtful legislators will admit that there is a compelling need for more spending on schools.

The challenge now facing school superintendents and board members belonging to the Council for Better Education is to rally support in their communities to convince legislators to act on that need, either by raising taxes to better fund schools or to redirect existing state revenues into education programs.

Certainly, the issue of inadequate school funding deserves to be front and center in debates between the two candidates seeking to lead Kentucky government for the next four years.

– The State Journal, Frankfort

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