Oregon justices expected to rule on school funding lawsuit

Chris Rizo Jan. 23, 2009, 12:01am

Oregon Supreme Court justices

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)- The Oregon state Supreme Court is expected to release Friday its ruling on a closely watched case over school funding.

Eighteen school districts and seven public school students sued the state, claiming state lawmakers have not given schools in the Beaver State their fair share of the budget despite a mandate from voters to improve schools.

Education advocates say the Legislature is constitutionally obligated to provide more money for schools to meet "quality" education goals for K-12 classrooms approved by voters in 2000 through Measure 1.

The law requires lawmakers to appropriate in each biennium money "sufficient to ensure that the state's system of K-12 public education meets quality goals established by law."

Robert Atkinson, the state's lawyer, has argued the Legislature is under no obligation to provide the billions of extra dollars of funding it would take for schools to meet voter-approved goals.

State Rep. Peter Buckley, chairman of the House Education Committee, told Legal Newsline in an earlier interview that he believes there is no doubt the Legislature is underfunding schools.

"We put in place the Quality Education Model to show what a quality education would be for Oregon schools, and we have not reached that level of funding," said Buckley, D-Ashland. "When we do, we can say we are adequately funding education, but until then we can't."

He said Measure 1 allows some flexibility for legislators. Under the law, the Legislature must report to the public if lawmakers are not providing enough schools' funding to meet the goals.

"Our legal obligation is to either fund education adequately or explain why we didn't do it," Buckley said. "Our explanation this (biennium) was we didn't do it because we didn't have the revenue to do it. It comes down to that basic fact."

The case is Pendleton et al v State of Oregon.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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