MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA The state asked a district judge Monday to bring to an end the long court battle over the way schools are funded, citing increases in school funding made by the Legislature last year. “We’ve said all along that we think its over,” said Lynn Solomon, spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike McGrath. The Montana Quality Education Coalition, which brought the lawsuit in 2002, said the state’s filing fails to prove that the state has met its obligation. “We don’t see anything that convinces us, and we don’t believe it would convince the judge either, that they have provided adequate resources to meet the definition of quality education,” said Bruce Messinger, superintendent of Helena Public Schools and a MQC board member. Monday’s filing asked a court to deny a recent request from education interests for another hearing after the 2007 Legislature adjourns, to determine if the state has done enough to fix a school funding formula that was ruled inadequate and unconstitutional. The coalition decided against a fullscale legal challenge of the issue earlier this year, opting instead to file the status report and wait to see what the 2007 Legislature does for schools. The Montana Quality Education Coalition says the state hasn’t done enough to reform its funding system or given public schools enough money to meet quality standards passed in legislation last year. But the state’s filing argues the matter is settled. “If plaintiffs still believe that the school funding system is unconstitutional after the work of the 2005 and 2007 legislative sessions has been fully implemented, they can file suit then,” the state’s court filing says. In early 2005, the Legislature approved about $70 million more for schools and adopted a set of standards defining a quality education. Gov. Brian Schweitzer then called a special session in December with a plan for another $71 million for schools. The education interests argue that there is no connection between the money the state pays out to schools and the definition of quality education. The standards and additional funding came after the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to improve the school funding system. After the special session, Schweitzer quickly made public his views that the state had put enough money into schools to meet the school funding lawsuit. In January, he got a cool reception at the annual meeting of the Montana Quality Education Coalition when he told them to support his administration’s goals or “do what you need to do” and go back to court. Schweitzer has said the state still plans to put even more money into education in the future because it’s a good idea, not because it thinks it is bound by court order to do so. Schweitzer has even rebuffed a request from the group to negotiate on the issue, saying school funding won’t be decided anymore by “lawyers” and “consultants.” The governor’s office declined comment Monday, saying the court filing makes the state’s position clear.