Interim Dean Lee Fisher participated in “The Sound of Ideas” radio show on WCPN/90.3 (Cleveland-area NPR affiliate) on April 19. Dean Fisher discussed DeRolph v. Ohio, the landmark Ohio Supreme Court case decided in 1997, which ruled that the way in which Ohio funded education was unconstitutional. The program is available for viewing here.
Dear Dean Fisher, I listened with great interest to the radio interview about the Ohio school finance case. In the immortal words of that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, it was “deja vu all over again.” I served as co-counsel for plaintiffs in the Massachusetts school finance litigation for some 23 years (1982 until 2005). We won the liability phase in 1993, the Massachusetts legislature passed a new statute shortly thereafter, and we returned to court to prove that the new funding formula was not sufficient. We had a 78-day trial, the specially-appointed Superior Court judge then filed a 350 page findings of fact with the highest court, Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), all in our favor and, without any facts in dispute, the SJC denied relief. We know that the real reason was that the needed remedy would not just have resulted in new taxes, but would have required a new tax structure. Even though appointed for life (or until age 70, whichever is later), the members of the SJC knew where the funding for the courts comes from (the legislature), and they punted. Later, when the specially-appointed Superior Court judge was named to the SJC by then Governor Patrick, I was invited to the ceremony and greeted the new justice (Margot Botsford), by telling her that she was the best definition of “poetic justice” I knew. I wrote two published law review articles about the case and gave printed copies to the CM library. They are also on my website, http://www.romlawoffice.com. There simply is not the political or judicial will to find a just funding formula. You are right to say that we shouldn’t invoke Robin Hood, but neither should we allow the status quo to remain. Look to the way Hawaii and New Mexico deal with school funding for guidance (and not that they are perfect either!) Alan