Tag Archives: Supreme Court

School Funding Formulas Under Fiscal Pressure

With stimulus dollars spent and state reserve funds dry school districts are running out of palatable options for meeting current spending levels in school budgets. Some Kansas school districts are suing the state on the grounds that reduced state funding violates the constitutional obligation to provide “adequate” funding for K-12 public schools.

Such litigation is part of the terrain in American public school policy. There have been twenty Abbott Decisions in New Jersey in order to ensure that students in low-income districts receive a constitutionally-specified “thorough and efficient education.” The court in New Jersey interpreted this to mean that low-income districts must receive sufficient state aid to equalize per-pupil spending with the highest-spending district in the state.

But spending “equity” arguments have not proven successful in many states. School advocates have turned to arguing for “adequacy”. The result is that school districts have grown less dependent on direct financing through property taxes and more dependent on state aid. Fiscal illusion reigns in school budgets. The crisis in state budgets means the aid-dependency of school districts is being tested.

The Kansas state legislature will be at the mercy of the courts which may bind the state to award more money to schools. It’s not a good way to make appropriations or school policy. And it is something that Sen. Sam Brownback may be willing to test in the U.S. Supreme Court.

California May Have a Budget!

Here are some facts:

  • The budget is 99 days overdue. PA and NY’s budgets were also-past due, but they were resolved long ago.
  • According to reports, the state’s $19 billion budget gap is closed:

with what lawmakers call solutions and creative accounting tactics, some of which push off payments to the next fiscal year [MM: Sound familiar?]

  • The deal was made possible by a recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court. It upheld Governor Schwarzenegger’s mandate that 200,000 public employees take unpaid days off.
  • The deal required $5.3 billion in federal aid. If we extrapolate the result from Sobel and Crowley, the federal aid may stimulate anywhere from $1.7 to $2.2 billion in new state taxes. 
  • Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported:

On the brink of insolvency, California may have to pay its bills with IOUs soon. A budget was due three months ago, and the legislature hasn’t passed one.

The lawmakers can, however, point to a list of other achievements this year. Awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature, for example, is a bill that would bar the state from filming cows in New Zealand. It’s the fruit of five committee votes and eight legislative analyses.

California lawmakers also voted to form a lobster commission. They created “Motorcycle Awareness Month,” not to mention a “Cuss Free Week.”

And they kept the California state rock safe. Senate Bill 624 had sought to bust the rock, serpentine. Adamant opposition protected it, but sponsor Gloria Romero declared this “an issue we should address again.”

Assorted Links

The real Terminator? Chris Christie v. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Christie’s  promise to New Jersey, “brighter days ahead.”

Haitian orphans arrive in the U.S.

NY Governor Paterson’s $136 billion budget, and a tax on soda.

Michigan battles Asian carp invasion: U.S. Supreme Court denies request to close Great Lakes waterway locks.

Schwarzenegger’s “The Collectinator”: California’s bailout sequel

Governor Schwarzengger has resurrected a moniker. In 2003 he called himself “The Collectinator” for his promise to get money back from Washington, D.C. Now, the governor will seek several billion more to help California meet its $21 billion budget shortfall through 2011. His office argues that under President Clinton, California received 94 cents for every dollar it sent to Washington. Now it’s 78 cents. The claim is California is subsidizing programs in other states. Of course, it does not follow that the rest of the United States should subsidize decades of excessive in-state spending in California. To be sure Governor Schwarzenegger doesn’t have it easy. An Alameda Superior Court ruled yesterday that the Governor cannot furlough thousands of unionized state workers including members of the Services Employees International Union. The case is now headed to the state Supreme Court.

Empire State of Mind

New York’s highest court recently decided two separate cases that centered around eminent domain abuse and the Fifth Amendment. In late November, the court allowed basketball tycoon Bruce Ratner to appropriate a good sized section of a Brooklyn, furthering his plan to move the New Jersey Nets franchise to a new arena. Last week, the intermediate appeals court stopped Columbia University’s attempt to gobble up much of the Manhattanville neighborhood north of Midtown. [Corrected 12/08.]

These cases highlight just how much of a mess eminent domain proceedings are in the wake of 2005’s U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London. Supreme Court decisions are no stranger to controversy, but the outrage surrounding Kelo transcended party or ideology, and led to forty-three states adopting restrictions on their own eminent domain powers.

In the Brooklyn case, the issue is identical to Kelo. Bruce Ratner wants to tear down a significant portion of a vibrant neighborhood, and replace it with private economic developments including office towers, a shopping complex, and a basketball arena, which will likely be financed with a significant public subsidy.

Reason Magazine‘s Damon Root has an excellent analysis of the private property rights that Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation trampled over: Continue reading

Fixing Education First

Eileen Norcross has an op-ed in the Asbury Park Press arguing that Governor-elect Christie must deal with New Jersey’s education system before it will be possible to deal with the budget deficit, property taxes, income taxes, and outmigration:

School funding is a mess not because of decisions by the Legislature, but edicts from the state’s Supreme Court. For more than 30 years, the courts have controlled the schools through the Abbott decisions (which number 20 separate rulings over 24 years).

To wit, 31 court-designated Abbott districts must spend the same amount per student as the highest-spending district in the state. While other state courts have ruled on state funding formulas for education, none have effectively taken over the Legislature’s policymaking functions as the New Jersey courts have. Continue reading

The non-protesting kind come to Washington, D.C. Tea Party 9/12

D.C. Tea Party Sign 9/12/09 Penn Ave

D.C. Tea Party Sign 9/12/09 Penn Ave

It will be a loss for future historians if today’s chroniclers brush aside The Tea Party that came to Washington D.C. on 9/12 with brute characterizations.

I have watched, in the streets, several protest marches in D.C. over the years. The swell of people who stood outside the Supreme Court during Bush v. Gore in December 2000 debating chads was drawn by partisan fidelity (and some by the historic nature of the case).

During the protest following George Bush’s second inauguration there was a personal target and myriad complaints, hot rage, edge, but no uniting philosophical theme.

The remarkable features of 9/12 from my view:

  • These are everyday people who showed up as the result of a viral, decentralized spontaneity sustained since April 15.
  • The size. While estimates are debated on crowd size (and there must have been in the upper hundreds of thousands). I was struck by its calmness – the steady flow of the crowd. Deliberately paced. The tone among marchers – neighborly and of good cheer, yet entirely serious. They made a tradeoff to be here.
  • The signage. I think Matt Welch at Reason has it exactly right. A handful of Ayn Rand, several pro-life, a scant few tasteless. I saw only one of the “Must-have-at-all-protests-no-matter-what-you-are-protesting” – the  Reductio ad Nazium. I saw far more tri-cornered hats, colonial attire, two Statues of Liberty, and several grim reapers.
  • The overwhelming sea of signage was hand-drawn. Topics: health care, the debt, taxation, Congress, the Administration (no love for either). Signs of the Constitution and Gadsden flags were abundant. If one sign summed up the mood it was, ”Don’t Make Me Come Up There”,  stamped  over the Constitution, held by a middle-aged woman standing by the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol.

These were ordinary people. The non-protesting kind from your neighborhood, organized via technology, the internet, blogs, message boards, Facebook, and Twitter. As the Wall Street Journal noted on April 15th, in the old days coordinating people required a union or a church. As the last decade and half of protesting has demonstrated, today people can coordinate themselves.

To know if the Tea Party movement is an ideological marker with the power to re-shape politics (not unlike the anti-war or environmental movements) it must be followed in seriousness – a difficult charge, since ideological behavior provokes ideological reactions in those observing.

Robert Higgs in his book, Crisis and Leviathan, writes on the nature and role of ideology in altering society.

“To understand ideology, one must study symbols, paying special attention to rhetoric. How the ideologue expresses himself may be as important as what he says. Imagery holds the key to the identification of ideological motivation and program. Language is an important political resource…By taking linguistic symbols seriously one opens a window for viewing ideologies in action.”

It is a foggy window, Higgs notes, but nonetheless it is still a picture to be studied.

For another first-hand account, read the notes of my colleague, Veronique de Rugy, at The Corner.

UPDATE: Added photo.

Is the U.S. Senate Obsolete?

Syndicated columnist Neal Pierce has been writing about state and local affairs since at lease the 1970s. In a recent column, he asks, “Are State Governments Obsolete?” It might have been more appropriate to ask whether state governments actually exist — at least in the traditional constitutional sense. Blessed by the Supreme Court and other judicial rulings, state governments have become administrative appendages of the federal government.

In one area after another in the twentieth century — matters of transportation, public health, land use control, education, wildlife management, etc. — the federal government assumed powers that had traditionally been reserved to the states. States might still have an administrative role, but they are now working under a very tight federal leash.

The sweeping environmental laws of the 1970s shifted control over clean air and water to the federal government. The states were, to be sure, left to administer air and water pollution laws day to day but under federally approved programs, leaving real control in federal hands. The Endangered Species Act not only federalized significant parts of wildlife management but also asserted federal authority over large areas of state and local land use. No Child Left Behind moved a large step towards the full federalization of education in the United States.

Continue reading

Introducing Competition to Public Schools

As states are attempting to improve the quality of public education while facing tight budget constraints, school vouchers are gaining publicity as a means of improving education through increased competition while not requiring increased funding.

Voucher programs have been implemented in several cities across the country, generally improving achievement among students who are able to use them. As reported in USA Today:

Vouchers have improved the math and reading of inner-city children from Dayton, Ohio, to Charlotte, N.C., various studies show. The Washington vouchers improved the reading of girls and younger kids by about half a school year, though results for other groups were iffier. Yet opposition is so fierce that few voucher experiments survive past the seedling stage. Florida vouchers were blocked by a party-line vote in the state Supreme Court. In Utah, they were killed by a union-funded anti-voucher campaign.

While critics of voucher programs such as the National Education Association fear that they would reduce the funding and quality of public schools, those who support vouchers assert that by introducing competition into public education, teachers and administrators will have new incentives to improve the level of service without raising costs.

Economist Charles Tiebout elucidated that competition between communities to attract investment has led to greater variation and improved choices for consumers who each have different preferences.  Communities’ residents are able to sort themselves into the neighborhoods and cities that are best for them by voting with their feet.  The same freedom for parents and children to choose which school to attend might improve the quality of education available generally as well as increase the variety of schooling options available to each child.

Legislative Action Against Kelo

In Texas, House Joint Resolution 14 could give voters the opportunity to increase the security of the state’s property owners, pending passage in the State Senate, which already passed a separate, weaker bill.  Currently, under precedent set by the Supreme Court case Kelo v. the City of New London, states can take ownership of property under their eminent domain powers by demonstrating merely that government ownership would offer “public benefit” as opposed to being required to prove “public use.”

The Institute for Justice explains that  HJR 14, which passed unanimously in the Texas House of Representatives, could potentially improve the state’s policy environment:

Under Kelo, a government is free to take your home or business and give it to anyone who might create more jobs or pay more taxes with your land than you do.  HJR 14 fixes Kelo in Texas by making it clear that “public use” means a use of the property by the government, the condemning authority or the public at large.

This action to strengthen the rights of Texas property owners contrasts with movements in some U.S. cities, including Cleveland and Flint, which are considering planned shrinkage as a way of dealing with mortgage foreclosures. City planning authorities in these cities tout the benefits of confining development to a more compact area because it would allow public services and infrastructure to be provided at lower cost.

However, this policy comes with negative incentives for property owners which these planners are ignoring.  If a locality’s residents begin to fear that their government, rather than protecting their property, may seize it to put it to use for the “public benefit” (which poses a much lower burden than “public use”), private investment, not to mention faith in good governance, will decline. If it passes, HJR 14 will allow policy makers (and policy researchers) to gather evidence across municipalities as to the costs and benefits of using eminent domain for public benefit takings, as some cities outside of Texas begin to employ this policy measure more heavily.