HELENA (AP) — A coalition that challenged Montana's public school funding system as inadequate in 2002 is now asking a judge to order the state to restore an $8 million funding cut that kicked in when the governor vetoed a bill backed by Republicans.
The Montana Quality Education Coalition filed its latest lawsuit in District Court in Helena on Friday, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.
The lawsuit said the 2011 Legislature approved separate bills that provided a two-year, 3.43 percent inflationary increase in state funding. But with the veto of another measure by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, schools will only receive a net increase of only 2.6 percent, it states.
"Both the Legislature and Gov. Brian Schweitzer intended to provide inflationary funding for schools," said Mark Lambrecht, executive director of the coalition. "This situation significantly reduced the amount of funding available to Montana's public schools."
Schweitzer vetoed House Bill 316, which would have transferred $9 million from various earmarked revenue sources to the state general fund to help balance the budget. House Republicans included language in the school-funding bill that cut education funding by $8 million next year if the transfer measure wasn't approved.
Republicans said they wanted some assurance that tourism and mining money in HB316 would help fund schools, just as some oil-and-gas funds had been diverted for schools.
In vetoing the bill, Schweitzer said the tourism money shouldn't be diverted when the state treasury had adequate money. He also criticized Republican lawmakers for tying the two together and said he would shore up the funding with a supplemental appropriation the 2013 Legislature would have to approve.
The lawsuit asked the District Court to "compel the state to take specific steps to provide Montana public schools with the ... mandated inflationary adjustments that are required by law."
Coalition members include several Montana education groups, as well as school districts. It filed the 2002 lawsuit that led to the 2005 Montana Supreme Court ruling that said state funding of public schools was unconstitutionally inadequate.