Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Goverment for free: not so legal

When is the law not the law? When its a school funding requirement.

The big guns over at Blue Oregon are reporting that the Oregon School Funding Defense Coalition (warning: PDF) has filed a lawsuit against the State of Oregon for not fully funding schools according to their constitutional mandate.

They appear to be filing based on the following Constitutional areas:

Article VIII, Section 8. Adequate and Equitable Funding. (1) The Legislative Assembly shall appropriate in each biennium a sum of money sufficient to ensure that the state's system of public education meets quality goals established by law, and publish a report that either demonstrates the appropriation is sufficient, or identifies the reasons for the insufficiency, its extent, and its impact on the ability of the state's system of public education to meet those goals.


Article VIII,Section 3. System of common schools. The Legislative Assembly shall provide by law for the establishment of a uniform, and general system of Common schools.

The entity in Oregon charged with determining how schools meet the quality goals set by the legislature is the Quality Education Commission. They are required to use the Quality Education Model (QEM) to come up with the changes needed in schools to meet the goals. According to the Oregon School Funding Defense Coalition Q&A, until the legislature changes this law, that's their legal mandate:

Is the QEM (Quality Education Model) relevant?From a legal perspective—and that is what this case is about – the QEM is not only relevant, it’s dispositive. Article VIII, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution requires the Legislature to provide funding sufficient to attain the statutory quality goals established by the Legislature in 1991. The Legislature, in turn, vested the Quality Education Commission with the authority to determine—using the QEM—the specific qualitative changes that were required for our schools to attain those quality goals. The Legislature has never adopted an alternative standard.

Can’t the legislature just change the law?The key point is that, whether or not the Legislature could change the law, it hasn’t. This case, like any other legal case, has to be decided based on what the law is, not what the law might be. Pursuant to statute, the Legislature may “make a determination that the report of the Quality Education Commission should not be used as the basis for carrying out” the Legislature’s reporting requirements. In that case, however, the Legislature
must “identify the reasons for not using the report” and must “outline an alternative methodology” for making its findings, which must be based on “(A) research, data and public values; and (B) the performance of successful schools and/or professional judgment.” The Legislature has not done so. And at least with
respect to the 2005-07 biennium, it’s too late.

This one starts in Multnomah County Circuit Court. My guess is that it makes it all the way to the Oregon Supremes.

Its about damn time this happened. Its time for us to face reality as a state. We're not collecting enough taxes to cover the things mandated by the state constitution.

Since the Reagan Administration, Oregonians and Americans in general have been conditioned to believe that government can provide services without taxpayers footing the bill. I'm hopeful that this lawsuit will begin to disabuse Oregonians of this notion for good.