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State must satisfy judge on education

July 26, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

An Ohio County circuit court judge who has been handling a lawsuit against West Virginia for the past 20 years says he's fed up with what he called the state government's "sham" responses to his orders.

Judge Arthur Recht says he doesn't want to provoke a constitutional crisis, but says he's frustrated the state hasn't come to the grips with the problem of educational funding. Somehow state government must find a way to satisfy the judge, or face a court battle that will cost the state money that should be spent in the classroom.

The source of the judge's displeasure is a 1975 lawsuit filed on behalf of a Lincoln County mother who said the state was not spending enough to properly educate her children. In a 1982 ruling, Recht required the state to devise a plan to do more.

In the past 20 years, however, state government has tried and failed to come up with a funding plan that satisfies the judge. On May 20, attorney Dan Hedges, who filed the original lawsuit, asked Recht to order the state to follow the recommendation of State School Superintendent David Stewart, who proposed an additional $39 million in school spending.

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Instead, lawmakers approved a $2.5 million a year education boost, to begin in 2005. In the July 1 hearing, Recht hinted he might order the state to spend additional money on schools now.

That can't be done, according to John Poffenbarger, an attorney representing Gov. Bob Wise, because under the state constitution, only the governor can send a budget to the Legislature.

If Wise and state lawmakers don't want the crisis Judge Recht threatens, they need to make the case that the money they're spending now - and plan to spend in the years to come - will get the job done.

That would require evidence like standardized test scores, to show students across the state are making progress at the same rate. In the absence of proof that what the state spends now is enough, Judge Recht seems ready to order government to spend a whole lot more.

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