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United States: Oregon Supreme Court Interprets State Constitution’s Requirement for Adequate Funding of Public Education

(Feb. 24, 2009) The Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled that the Oregon Constitution mandates funding of public education sufficient to meet quality goals, but does not give the court authority to enforce this mandate.

Several school districts and public school students sought a declaratory judgment that article VII, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution, passed by ballot measure, requires enough funding for education to meet quality education goals set by law. The plaintiffs also sought an injunction requiring the legislature to make such funding to meet those goals.

The Oregon Supreme Court agreed that the constitutional provision requires funding for quality goals. The court held that this constitutional provision provided authority to the judiciary to issue a declaratory judgment that the legislature had failed to adequately fund education for the 2005-2007 time period. However, the court ruled that this provision does not permit the court to issue an injunction mandating spending. The court noted that the provision allows the legislature to issue a report setting forth whether funding goals have or have not been met, and requires the legislature to explain the reason if the goals are not met. The court concluded that the reporting provision contemplates the legislature's failure to adequately fund education, and therefore does not create a right enforceable by the court.

The school districts and pupils also sought relief under an 1857 constitutional provision that mandates the establishment of public schools, which, they argued, implied providing adequate funding to meet quality goals. The court found that this provision only required funding of “minimum educational opportunities,” not funding sufficient to meet such goals. (Pendleton School Dist. v. Oregon, No. S056096 (Or. Jan. 23, 2009), available at