South Dakota Funding Fight Update

Last Updated: March 26, 2010

This article appeared in the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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In a step that brings the school finance lawsuit closer to hearing before the South Dakota Supreme Court, plaintiff districts’ attorneys have filed their appeal brief. The state’s attorneys have 85 days to respond. Plaintiff rural districts have faced multiple battles on several fronts in the case, including in the legislature. Last month, in attempt at halting the South Dakota Coalition of Schools funding action, the state senate unsuccessfully introduced a resolution to amend the state constitution to prohibit school districts from funding lawsuits over constitutional questions with public funds. The state Supreme Court had upheld the districts’ right to sue in an earlier decision but the lawsuit, which went forward with only student and parent plaintiffs, ultimately failed in the trial court.

Meanwhile, the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, (ASBSD), filed a “friend of the court” brief with the state Supreme Court supporting the plaintiff’s case. The brief states that trial Judge Lori Wilbur “disregarded the plight of disadvantaged students and poor school districts" struggling to educate “without appropriate programs, services, and facilities” in her decision. According to Wilbur’s interpretation, the South Dakota Constitution does not specifically require a “quality” education. During the trial evidence was presented that schools are unable to offer needed coursework, hire teachers, or repair or build new facilities, but Judge Wilbur did not find district superintendents’ testimony credible. (You can read more coverage of the decision from RSFN here:

The funding situation will not improve even modestly for schools in the next fiscal year as previously anticipated. The legislature has approved a measure overriding current state law that requires a yearly increase in per-pupil funding. South Dakota schools are supposed to receive an increase at least in the amount of the rate of inflation, up to a maximum of 3%. This zero-increase is also supported by Governor Mike Rounds.

Read more:

Coverage on the resolution to stop the lawsuit:

Coverage on the amicus brief:
Coverage on the funding freeze:
Lawsuit coverage:

Read more from the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.