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institutional reform litigation

Andrew Ujifusa at Education Week (“Kansas Ruling Fuels Debate on Adequacy of Funding”) quotes me:

But the union’s solution of significantly higher funding for schools isn’t the obvious or correct one to Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute. In a March 10 blog post on the website of the libertarian think tank, Mr. Olson said that Kansas’ finance fight is just one piece of a larger strategy that seeks to “seize control of school funding” through the courts.

In the process, he argued in a subsequent interview, that movement is subverting representative democracy by ignoring what state legislators decide on K-12 funding.

“I see it as a way in which the educational establishment uses litigation to entrench itself against supervision by other branches of government and voters interested in cutting budgets,” Mr. Olson said.

I go on to discuss California’s Serrano v. Priest and its unexpected consequence, voters’ limitation of property taxes through Proposition 13. And this from Ben Wilterdink at American Legislator on the latest ruling:

Kansas has faced this problem before. In 2005 the State Supreme Court ordered Kansas to spend more on education. Kansas lawmakers complied, but now the Court is again ordering more spending. Kansas already spends more than 50 percent of its budget on K-12 education, and if this ruling stands, it will be forced to spend 62 percent of its budget on education. All of this is despite the fact that when measured against regional per-pupil spending, Kansas is funding education quite well.

Earlier here, etc.

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March 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 20, 2014

  • Sue the NYC welfare department enough, and Mayor De Blasio might make you its chief [Heather Mac Donald, City Journal] Cozy relations between nonprofits and Gotham administration dodge accountability [Steven Malanga, same]
  • Consumer objects to Muscle Milk class action settlement, and there’s a Ted Frank angle [Above the Law]
  • Asking employees whether they’re disabled suddenly mandatory rather than forbidden [WSJ, earlier]
  • “…not trying to tell you how to live your life, I’m just suggesting that it’s a bad idea to put sharp or explosive objects in your…” [Lowering the Bar]
  • “Carnival cruise passengers sue seeking $5,000 a month for life” [Reuters]
  • Husbands could sue noncompliant wives: “UAE law requires mothers to breastfeed for first two years” [Guardian]
  • New symposium on “The State, The Clan, and Individual Liberty” with Mark S. Weiner, Arnold Kling, Daniel McCarthy, and John Fabian Witt [Cato Unbound]

Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on February 14, 2014

  • “Attorney parents of ‘mathlete’ lose again in legal battle over right to select son’s algebra teacher” [Martha Neil, ABA Journal, earlier]
  • One reason NYC doesn’t close schools amid brutal winter storms? They’ve got a food program to run [Business Insider; James Panero, NYDN]
  • Should Gov. Deval Patrick, CNN host Piers Morgan apologize to townspeople of Lunenburg, Mass.? [Chuck Ross, The Federalist]
  • Kansas school-finance suit tests whether litigators can end-run elected officials on taxes and spending [WSJ, compare Colorado]
  • Lenore Skenazy (who’ll speak at Cato Mar. 6) on the Wellesley “Sleepwalker” sculpture flap: “Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete” [WSJ]
  • “School Found Liable After Child Sneaks Onto Roof And Falls” [Erik Magraken; British Columbia, Canada]
  • National Research Council issues report on Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) [Zachary Schrag first, second, third, fourth posts]
  • Vergara v. California: notwithstanding the hoopla, bringing more lawsuits might actually not be the best way to save American education [Andrew Coulson]

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Starting in the 1960s a wave of foundation-backed lawsuits (Wyatt v. Stickney, etc.) resulted in the closure or drastic shrinkage of most larger state mental health facilities, with the hope that patients would benefit instead from more humane and decentralized “community-based care.” I have decidedly mixed feelings about the results of that episode: the old system inflicted abuses and deprivation of freedom that cried out for oversight and reform, but the new system has handed a great deal of power to unaccountable litigators managing consent decrees in pursuit of their own, sometimes quite debatable, view of clients’ and society’s best interest. Among the roads not taken: strengthening the inspectorate concept, which places oversight authority in a class of appointees intended to be independent of the care institutions but answerable to judges, elected officials, or both. I’m quoted at length on these issues in Neil Maghami’s new Capital Research Center profile of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, a key funder of the suits.

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