Rhode Island Lawsuit Filed

Last Updated: February 25, 2010

This article appeared in the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

Two of the state’s poorest municipalities have filed a funding lawsuit alleging that poor children are being discriminated against because they are not receiving educational opportunities and the state is failing to provide adequate or equitable funding.

Rhode Island is the only state in the nation that does not have a school funding formula. Rather it distributes money to districts in a number of other ways. The suit cites the needs specifically of poor urban communities but is brought on behalf of all Rhode Island children.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court dismissed a similar complaint brought fifteen years ago, citing, among other things, “justiciability” concerns, the argument that funding issues are left up to the state General Assembly rather than the courts.

The current case clarifies that subsequent amendments to the constitution related to separation of powers give the court the role of deciding issues in the case.

An accompanying state-wide grassroots campaign, “Rhode Island is Ready,” cites a fair funding formula as its first priority. And, state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is working on developing a funding formula with experts at Brown University.

Steve Robinson, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the present case, who was also plaintiffs’ attorney in the earlier case, noted the timing of the filing of this lawsuit: “because it is Abraham Lincoln's birthday and it is a civil rights issue."

Read more:

Local coverage of the suit:

Read an editorial on RI funding here:

Read the plaintiffs’ complaint here:

Read more from the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters.