Thursday, November 20, 2003

Judge hears arguments over motion to dismiss schools suit

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - An attorney for lawmakers named in a lawsuit alleging inadequate funding of public schools asked a Franklin County circuit judge Wednesday to dismiss the case.

The case should be dismissed because it could infringe on the state constitution and cross the separation of powers, sad Mark Overstreet, an attorney representing the lawmakers. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, are defendants in the case.

"What the General Assembly, in making this motion, is simply doing is having the constitution observed," Overstreet told reporters following the hearing.

"This motion is about the law, and more particularly, it's about the constitution."

The Council for Better Education, a coalition of school districts, filed the lawsuit in September.

The coalition is asking the court to determine how much the Legislature should fund elementary and secondary education. Lawmakers filed a motion asking for dismissal last month.

Franklin Circuit Judge William Graham heard the arguments from lawyers representing both sides, but did not make a ruling. It remains unclear when Graham will rule.

"I've only looked through this quickly, so of course I will study it and may at that time want to call you back and debate it some more," Graham told the attorneys after the hearing.

Byron Leet, a Louisville attorney representing the council, said while the council is not asking the court to decide on past education budgets, those are relevant.

"We know what has happened over the last few sessions," Leet said.

"And, obviously we have reason to believe that going forward the General Assembly will not adequately fund education."

Overstreet maintained that the courts could not rule on possible future actions by the General Assembly.

"What the council is asking the court to do is sit as the General Assembly and year in and year out decide how much money is going to be spent on education in Kentucky, and that is wrong," Overstreet said. "... They would have Judge Graham be a super-legislator and fix that number. Legislators could just phone it in that day. They wouldn't have to come because it would already be determined."

Graham is also considering a separate lawsuit on behalf of 16 students in eight Kentucky counties that is seeking more money for state education.

That suit has been combined with the council's.

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