Adequacy lawsuits unlikely

Patrick Gibbons

Back in September, Senator William Raggio (R-Washoe) opined that budget cuts to education in Nevada could result in an “adequacy” lawsuit. Supposedly, such threats would compel him, and others, to increase taxes. NPRI responded with an article, “Inadequate? or Ineffective?” to relieve those concerns.

NPRI noted that the vast majority of states which lost adequacy lawsuits for public education and then increased spending saw no significant gains in student achievement. Only Massachusetts saw significant gains, but its students were outperformed by those of Florida, a state which spent about half as much per pupil.

Some good news on the adequacy-lawsuit front comes from Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth. In an article for the Federalist Society, “Judicial Funding Mandates Related to Education Sharply Decline,” Hanushek and Lindseth report that a dozen adequacy lawsuits have been dismissed by state courts across the nation since 2005. Not a single case since 2005 has resulted in a judgment demanding increased funding to public education.

In Horne v. Flores the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower-court decision requiring increased funding to programs for English language learners in Arizona. The court noted that increased funding had little to no impact on student achievement.

According to the Pacific Legal Foundation “[t]he issue was whether the courts improperly declined to modify an injunction against Arizona for failing to provide sufficient funding for non-English speaking school children.”

Even though Nevada’s constitutional requirements of public education are written in a way that would make a victorious adequacy lawsuit improbable to begin with, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Horne v. Flores now makes that scenario even less likely. Senator Raggio, you have nothing to worry about now.

With the adequacy lawsuit monkey off Nevada’s back, maybe lawmakers can turn their efforts toward smart, effective and frugal education policies – rather than trying to figure out more creative ways of taking other people’s hard-earned money.