School Funding Lawsuit Heads Back to Court

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS – District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock will again hear arguments regarding funding for Montana’s schools during a bench trial in Helena that begins Sept. 22.

The Montana Quality Education Coalition, the Montana Rural Education Association and other education groups renewed their lawsuit against the state in February, arguing the state has failed to come up with an adequate school funding formula.

In 2004, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that school funding was inadequate, and the Legislature held a special session in 2005 to increase school funding. But MQEC said the increase wasn’t enough and renewed the lawsuit.

MQEC co-chairman and Columbia Falls Superintendent Mike Nicosia says several witnesses will be called to articulate the group’s point.

Superintendents from Helena, Billings, Bozeman and Cut Bank are expected to testify, along with Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, and others, Nicosia said.

Meanwhile, the state and the attorney general’s office plan to present several witnesses who say school funding has increased significantly since the 2005 special session.

David Ewer, Gov. Schweitzer’s budget director, may be called to testify, along with Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the union that represents public school teachers and personnel. Jan Lombardi, Schweitzer’s education adviser, also is on the list of witnesses the attorney general’s office might call.

The trial is expected to last about a week.