South Dakota Judge Rules Funding Not Unconstitutional

Last Updated: May 05, 2009

This article appeared in the April 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
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In a ruling that runs over 300 pages, a South Dakota judge has found that the state’s funding system needs improvement but is not unconstitutional. Judge Lori Wilbur reviewed state constitutional and legislative history in her decision and found that education is not a fundamental right for students in the state and, therefore, that heightened scrutiny of educational programs is not warranted.
She also found district superintendents’ testimony in the case was “heartfelt” but because of their positions not “credible” and that plaintiffs had not proven that students in South Dakota are not currently receiving an opportunity for an adequate education.
Superintendents testified that schools in some districts are meeting in portable trailers because there is not funding for new buildings and that starting teacher salaries in some districts are under $26,800. Plaintiffs’ attorney Scott Abdallah has indicated that an appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely. Abdallah has worked on the case pro bono since another Wilbur ruling held that districts could not spend money on the suit. That issue is on appeal before the South Dakota Supreme Court and will ultimately determine whether Abdallah can be paid. Governor Mike Rounds has characterized the suit as a waste of money.
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Read more from the April 2009 Rural Policy Matters.