By SARAH R. CRAIG Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Gov. Judy Martz on Wednesday questioned how Montana can afford to follow the recent court ruling declaring the state's educational funding system unconstitutional, adding that she hasn't decided whether the state should appeal.
''How can this decision hold?'' Martz asked at a news conference. ''If we are going to tax people in the state of Montana 60 percent more just to fund education, how can that work? How will we even keep the people that live in Montana in Montana by taxing them 60 percent more?''
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled that Montana is violating its own constitution by failing to adequately fund public schools and must design a rational system of school finance by October 2005. The suit was filed by a coalition of education groups, school districts and parents.
Some have suggested that meeting the requirements set out in Sherlock's order could require massive tax increases, although the amount of additional money needed, if any, has yet to be determined.
Martz said the ruling raises more questions than it provides answers.
''Do we need as many school districts as we have?'' Martz asked. ''What is a quality education? What's the definition for that? There is no definition for several things in the state of Montana as far as education goes. Without those clear-cut definitions you're trying to pose something that you have no definition of where you're going.''
She said until those questions are answered, it will be difficult to decide whether to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
Martz also cited a report that said Montana ranks eighth in the nation per capita for school spending.
But, she acknowledged, Montana has a relatively low per capita income.
''Until we create an economy that can hold up those expenditures, we are going to be working day after day after day trying to come to the table to bring a solution,'' Martz said.
The governor said she is not fully convinced Montana's educational system lacks in quality.
''Our kids, our K-12 students rank very well in the nation and I would say that's a pretty good quality of education, and it is,'' Martz said. ''So is it quality of education because of funding or is it quality of education because of learning?''
Overall, Martz said, developing Montana's economy is the long-term solution to money shortages.
''We've laid the foundation for our economy to change,'' Martz said. ''It's like glacial speed some days. You feel like you're being drug behind a car and nothing ever happens, you just get bruised. But we're seeing some things happening that are positive.''