Some are speculating as to whether Nevada could be successfully sued and forced to increase its public education funding, as reportedly happened a couple of weeks ago with a ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Let’s just say we’re not in Kansas any more.
The Kansas Constitution contains language quite different from that found in Nevada’s founding document.
“The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state,” says the Kansas Constitution, and their high court has said this means “the Kansas Constitution contains at least two components: adequacy and equity.”
Though it has been widely reported that the court ordered the Kansas Legislature to spend more than $125 million to bring the education budget into compliance with that adequacy requirement, the court actually ruled:
“Under the facts of this case, the district court panel did not apply the correct test to determine whether the State met its duty to provide adequacy in K-12 public education as required under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution. Therefore partial reversal and remand is required for the panel to make an adequacy determination, complete with findings, after applying the correct test to the facts.
“Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education required by Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.”
The adequacy aspect was remanded and the court could eventually order more funding, but what was upheld was the inequity of funding. Similar to what happened in Texas years ago, the court found poorer districts weren’t getting equitable funding.
Though Nevada, too, might face an equity issue someday, our Constitution states:
“The Legislature shall have power to [establish] Normal schools, and such different grades of schools, from the primary department to the University, as in their discretion they may deem necessary …”
Adequacy is up to the Legislature, not the court.
Actually, litigation over the adequacy of education funding has already occurred.
In 2003, the state Supreme Court ruled in Guinn v. Legislature, without anyone asking them to, that a constitutional requirement for a two-thirds supermajority of legislative votes to pass a tax hike must give way to the constitutional need to adequately fund education. The Legislature had passed all its budgets except education and adding education spending to the already approved spending would have required a tax hike, which did not muster a two-thirds vote.
Gov. Kenny Guinn asked the court to step in and resolve the impasse.
The Legislature eventually avoided a constitutional crisis by passing tax hikes with a supermajority.
At the time, Justice Deborah Agosti quoted the state Constitution which says, “The legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, literary, scientific, mining, mechanical, agricultural, and moral improvements …
She even quoted what the Nevada Constitution specifically says of school funding, “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year …”
One school. Six months.
The ruling was 6-1 with Justice Bill Maupin dissenting. He wrote, “Again, we are powerless to order co-equal branches of government to exercise individual acts of constitutional discretion. Our authority depends upon whether extraordinary relief is warranted and in exercising our authority to grant relief, we would be restricted to an interpretation of the Constitution, utilizing recognized tenets of statutory construction.”
In September 2006, the court unanimously reversed Guinn v. Legislature, saying, “The Nevada Constitution should be read as a whole, so as to give effect to and harmonize each provision.”
Sue for education funding? Been there. Done that. Precedent set. The Legislature must act, not the courts. So, don’t try it again. — TM