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editoria - herald- 3/27/01

March 26, 2001

School funding suit alive, more than 20 years later



More than 25 years after a Lincoln County, W.Va. filed a lawsuit claiming that the state failed to give her child an adequate education, the suit still isn't settled. That's not because the state doesn't have the will, but because a generation after the court first ruled, there's still not enough money to make a settlement work. It's time for a new approach.

The case went back to court this month after the state Board of Education missed a March 1 deadline to adopt new school polices to carry out an agreement reached last fall on curriculum and evaluation issues. Pilot program should have begun this month, followed by full implementation this summer.

Judge Arthur Recht of Ohio County, who's handled the case since it was first filed, was unhappy with state education officials' non-compliance. He said that compliance should not have been a problem, since his order- including the March 1 deadline - was written in English.

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But Judge Recht did not hold school officials in contempt. Instead he suggested that Dan Hedges, the attorney for the plaintiffs, meet with defense attorneys and try to work out something before bringing another dispute back to the court.

At the heart of the case the contention that local school systems depend too heavily on property taxes to fund their operations, and that as a result, all children in the state don't get the same quality of education.

The case could be resolved if there was an other pool of money the state could tap to equalize expenditures across the state. No such pool exists now, or is likely to be created in the near future. The plan approved by Judge Recht in 1983, calling for updated facilities and additional curriculum choices, will remain in the "wouldn't it be nice" category unless additional cash can be found to put it into practice.

The one possibility that seems practical would be to create a statewide charitable foundation, the interest from which could be utilized only to equalize education expenses across the state. It wouldn't happen overnight, but in a case that's lasted two decades so far. nobody expects a quick fix..

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