Judge could make ruling this week on school funding lawsuit

By The Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 3, 2015 at 12:21 p.m.



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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A Davidson County judge says she plans to rule this week on whether to grant class-action certification on a lawsuit filed by several school boards alleging Tennessee's education funding shortchanges them and students.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/1KM7hMv) Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman made the announcement following a hearing on Wednesday.

The lawsuit was filed by school systems in Bradley, Coffee, Hamilton, Grundy, Marion, McMinn and Polk counties.

The lawsuit claims the state doesn't provide enough funding for expenses that include teacher pay and health insurance. The state underestimates by about $10,000 what teachers are actually paid, the lawsuit says, and the state pays only for 10 months of teachers' 12 months of insurance.

Tennessee's Basic Education Program distributes some $6 billion annually to 144 school districts that are required to share the cost based on local ability to raise revenues.

Awarding the lawsuit class-action status would allow other local school systems to benefit, with the exception of Shelby County. The Memphis-based district filed its own lawsuit Monday, charging state government has violated the Tennessee constitutional provision mandating a free system of public education.

"This is a matter that affects all Tennesseans," said Scott Bennett, an attorney for the Hamilton County Board of Education.

Following attorneys' arguments on Wednesday, Bonnyman said, "my plan is to get an order out this week."

Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Kevin Steiling has called for the lawsuit to be dismissed, saying it relies on a "profoundly flawed interpretation" of three successful previous lawsuits against Tennessee's Basic Education Program and should be "dismissed in its entirety."

The state's attorney wrote that the local school districts were wrong in taking their complaints about lack of funding to the court system.

"The ... school boards do a difficult job in overseeing and conducting the day-to-day education of schoolchildren in their districts," Steiling wrote. "But these pleas for more funding are not properly directed to the courts of Tennessee — they must be directed to the General Assembly."

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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The Associated Press

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