President Trump and U.S. Department of Education (ED) Secretary DeVos have consistently emphasized and promoted the idea of “local control” in education. However, what does local control really mean? Power to the states? Power to the local school boards? Until now, many have believed that local control applied to all non-federal government involvement in education. The question continues to loom regarding the power struggle and what to do when the state government is in conflict with school boards and school districts.

Interested in learning more about current disputes involving state government and school district authority? If you are a client or member of the Council of Great City Schools, join us tomorrow, September 28, at 2:30 eastern for a complimentary continuing legal education webinar. Click here to register.

One of the topics that will be discussed is school finance issues. For instance, in Cave Creek Unified School District, et al. v. Dean Martin, et al., Cave Creek Unified School District sued the state of Arizona under A.R.S. §15-901.01. This state law required lawmakers to increase state aid to public schools each fiscal year by an amount determined by a statutory formula to compensate for inflation. The funding was to be used by the school districts to pay salaries and other recurring costs. After determining that Arizona had not been sufficiently increasing aid over the previous five fiscal years in accordance with the formula, the Superior Court ordered the state to pay $317 million for funding that should have been allocated to the school districts.

Similarly, in Gannon v. State, four school districts in Kansas and 31 students and guardians of students who attended schools within the districts brought a class action against the state of Kansas under Article 6 of the Kansas constitution and various Kansas educational statutes. Prior to the national economic recession in 2009, the school districts were funded through property taxes and Kansas provided state funding to offset the unequal funds resulting from various levels of wealth within each school district. After the depression began in 2009, Kansas eliminated capital outlay state aid, which was a form of state aid provided to the less-wealthy school districts, and significantly reduced another form, general state aid. The Supreme Court of Kansas found the funding disparities between the school districts resulting from this reduction to be unconstitutional. The court ordered the legislature to correct the “unreasonably wealth-based inequity.”

What This Means to You

Though these decisions only bind the states where they are located, school districts and school boards across the country either are or have been in conflict with their state governments regarding state funding issues. Courts appear to be erring on the side of requiring states to provide more aid for education when the controversies arise. It is important now more than ever for school districts to be familiar with their states’ laws surrounding state funding in order to ensure that schools within their districts are being adequately funded.