Nixon files for delay in lawsuit

The attorney general wants the legislature to fix school funding.
Thursday, November 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:59 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s Democratic attorney general wants to delay a lawsuit challenging the state’s formula for funding public schools so the Republican legislature and governor-elect can have time to fix the problems.

The motion filed by Jay Nixon asks the Cole County Circuit Court to postpone action on the lawsuit, which says the foundation formula is unconstitutional because it distributes money to school districts inequitably.

“We have a new governor-elect and new legislative leaders who have stated their commitment to finding a solution to this public policy challenge,” Nixon said in a statement.

Nixon’s official filing said delaying the lawsuit will save time and money if the legislature rewrites the formula next session.

“Considering there is bipartisan agreement on this particular issue, it’s something that we expect can be fully disposed of within the next six months,” Nixon spokesman Jim Gardner said.

The Committee for Educational Equality is the plaintiff in the case and represents more than 250 school districts. Plaintiffs’ attorney Alex Bartlett said it would be counterproductive to delay the case if the General Assembly fails to develop a new formula.

“I do not agree with the” argument “that this would be all for naught if a new formula was written,” he said.

Nixon’s motion got a partial endorsement from Gov.-elect Matt Blunt, who during the campaign emphasized education as his top priority and said the funding formula must be revised.

“He’s in favor of more time to work with the legislature and concerned citizens from every part of Missouri to rewrite Missouri’s foundation formula,” Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said. “He has always said and always believed that the state is never well served when courts get involved in writing public policy. One of his first actions as governor will be to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to craft a formula that is fair and equitable.”

Jackson said Blunt has already spoken with several members of the legislature and is encouraged by their willingness to tackle the problem. Blunt said at a news conference after the election that he wants to work quickly.

“My desire would be for us to beat a court decision,” Blunt said. “I believe we seldom benefit in government when we allow the courts to direct the other parts of government and tell them what to do.”

Tyler Laney, chairman of the Committee for Educational Equality, doesn’t want the lawsuit delayed because neither Blunt nor the legislature has a specific plan.

“I don’t see this as a reasonable solution,” he said. “The reason we’re in court now is because we have tried to work with General Assembly members; only after finding no avenues did we pursue this course of action.”

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