Not bad to have a book published one week and be cited by the U.S. Supreme Court the next.
That is the case for veteran Atlanta lawyer Alfred A. Lindseth, co-author with economist Eric A. Hanushek of a valuable new book that should be required reading for judges tempted to substitute their opinions for legislators’ in school-funding cases. Hanushek is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Their book, “Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses,” published last week, was cited Thursday in an Arizona education-funding case.
This book is relevant here, though Georgia is barely mentioned, because officials of mostly rural systems have sued for more state money. They pulled the suit in a bit of Fulton County judge-shopping, but it is certain to be back. Their complaint seeks “adequate” funding.
Thereupon they stand, on the slippery slope that inevitably propels activist judges into the separation-of-powers conflict and education policy quagmire.
The slippery slope begins in Georgia’s Constitution. “An adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State,” it declares. As Lindseth and Hanushek note, however, “‘adequacy’” is both a legal and a factual concept, and one that has been difficult for courts, litigants, educators, legislators and the public to grasp.”
They cite New York litigation. That state constitution language is even weaker than Georgia’s. It calls for “free common schools.” Yet, after two trials and five appellate decisions, “it is still difficult for someone reading the court’s various opinions to decide whether New York’s constitution requires a basic education, a world-class education, or something in between.” How much systems spend may have little to do with outcomes, nor do spending levels provide a clue as to which states are likely to be sued. Lindseth and Hanushek point to suits in high-spending states. None of the lowest spenders has been ordered to increase K-12 spending, they write.
States and districts that have done the best job of turning students at risk into high achievers — Texas and North Carolina through the 90s — didn’t approach the national average in per-pupil spending. Schools in general are limited in their ability to overcome “the harmful influences of the home or communities,” they say. Promoting jobs and stronger families — marriage, I argue, a mother and father in the home — may be the wiser use of extra money.
Policy and priority issues, in any event, belong in the Legislature, not in the courts.
After writing columns for more than 25 years, Jim Wooten is retiring — sort of. This is his last Sunday column, but he will continue to write “Thinking Right” every Friday and will blog regularly on ajc.com. Since Jim joined the Journal in 1971, he has been an important part of this newspaper. He is most proud of the work he did on corrupt government pensions, which saved the state tens of millions of dollars. “Newspapers are great instruments to change the world. I’m going to miss that,” he said.
Jim grew up in McRae and is a graduate of the University of Georgia. A Vietnam veteran, Wooten served in the Georgia Army National Guard for more than 20 years. He was chosen in 1996 as the Outstanding Alumnus of the UGA College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Georgia Trend magazine has named him one of the year’s 100 most influential Georgians for most of the past decade. We thank him for all of his work, and we’re so glad he’ll still be contributing to the AJC.
— Julia Wallace
Editor, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and ajc.com